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Title: Gymnopaideia  
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Subject: Amykles
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The Gymnopaedia, in ancient Sparta, was a yearly celebration during which naked youths displayed their athletic and martial skills through the medium of war dancing. The custom was introduced in 668 BC,[1] concurrently with the introduction of naked athletics, oiling the body for exercise so as to highlight its beauty.


Gymnopaedia derives from the ancient Greek Γυμνοπαιδίαι. The word Gymnopaedia is composed of γυμνός (gymnos, "naked" or "unarmed") and παιδιά "game" from παῖς (pais, "child, youth"). In Greek the plural form, Γυμνοπαιδίαι, is most often.[2]

Apart from "Gymnopaedia", modern transliterations/adaptations include "Gymnopaidiai" (mostly older translations of Greek texts, maintaining a plural form for the word) "Gymnopaidiae" (latinized plural form), "gymnopedia", "Gymnopaedie" (in German) and "gymnopédie" (in French, or when referring to the Erik Satie compositions).

Gymnopaedia in ancient Greece

The Gymnopaedia festival

The term appears in texts of Herodotus, and several authors in the Attic and Koiné periods. While for the earliest of these authors the meaning of Gymnopaedia appears predominantly as a festival (including several dances, sports, etc.), in the later periods of antiquity gymnopaedia is referred to as a particular dance.

The festival, celebrated in the summertime, was dedicated to Apollo (and/or, according to Plutarch, to Athena). Plato praises gymnopaedia-like exercises and performances in The Laws as an excellent medium of education: by dancing strenuously in the summer heat, Spartan youth were trained in both musical grace and warrior grit at the same time.

The Gymnopaedia was also in memory of defeat by Argos at Hysiai in 661 or 662 BC. In recognition of their defeat they hoped to appease the gods and prevent a recurrence of this defeat. The military style of dancing enforces the emphasis on military success and support in military campaign (to prevent defeat such as at Hysiai) in Spartan society.

In ancient Greece, as a general rule, sports were reserved for men, and would be performed "gymnos" - naked. Men were the only spectators when such sports were performed publicly. See also Gymnasium (ancient Greece). In Sparta, sources such as Aristophanes' plays suggest that women also exercised publicly and nakedly. Some modern opinion, therefore, suggests that this festival included dancing of young women for reasons of showing their strength and worthiness to give birth to strong men, and also as a way to promote eugenic marriage and population growth (with which Sparta would later struggle).

Public performance of such sports was generally in a ceremonial setting, i.e. for the occasion of a religious feast. While not all ceremonial sports were competitive, some included an element of competition for the most beautiful movement, or for speed or strength. Many of the sport categories of those days resembled dance more than modern track and field events.

Roman era

Some eight centuries after the first gymnopaedia had been presented, it still survived in Lacedaemonia. According to Lucian of Samosata (in his dialogue Of Pantomime) there still seems some connection to martial arts, as the youths would engage in gymnopaidia immediately after their daily military training. On the other hand, he describes the gymnopaedia as "yet another dance", neither involving nudity, nor exclusivity for men.

See also

  • Spartan pederasty
  • Hyacinthia
  • For the pyrrhic dance, a war dance spread throughout Ancient Greece, see Korybantes
  • Gymnopédie, 19th century music and poetry referring to gymnopaedia; particularly the three piano compositions by the French composer Erik Satie.



  • Meursius, Johannes (Loozduynen, 1579 - Soroe, 1639): Orchestra, sive de saltationibus veterum, Leiden 1618
    • Reprint of the 1745 Florentine edition + comments, updates (in English) by ISBN 960-86150-5-4
  • Muller Jzn., F. and Thiel, J.H., Beknopt Grieks-Nederlands woordenboek, Wolters Groningen, 2nd edition (20th century, after 1919)
  • Müller, Otfried, Die Dorier, 1824
    • Abridged English translation, known as The Dorians: The History and Antiquities of the Doric Race, 2nd. ed. rev., 2 Vol., translated from the German by Henry Tufnell and George Cornewall Lewis, A. M., publ. John Murray, Albemarle Str., London, 1839.
  • Xenophon, Polity of Athenians and Lacedaemonians, 4th/5th century BC
    • English translation by H. G. Dakyns, E-text version prepared by John Bickers for
  • William Smith - Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities:
    • "Gymnopaedia" article in 1890 edition
    • "Saltatio" (= Dance) article in 1875 edition

External links

  • The (translated in English) on the Project Gutenberg Website contains the full text of Of Pantomime
  • Webpage on the History of Greek Dance by Lena Patsidou - Anna Mavromatis
  • - 1924 text
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