Fitness in Ancient Greece

Ancient Greek Civilization (2500-200 B.C.)
Athens
Perhaps no other civilization has held fitness in such high regard as ancient Greece. The idealism of physical perfection was one that embodied ancient Greek civilization. The appreciation for beauty of the body and importance of health and fitness throughout society is one that is unparalleled in history. The Greeks believed development of the body was equally as important as development of the mind. Physical well-being was necessary for mental well-being, with the need for a strong, healthy body to harbor a sound mind. Many founding medical practitioners facilitated the growth of fitness throughout ancient Greece, including the likes of Herodicus, Hippocrates, and Galen (7).

Gymnastics, along with music, was considered to be the most important classroom topic. A common saying in ancient Greek times was “exercise for the body and music for the soul (5) “. Gymnastics took place in palaestras, which were sites of physical education for young boys. The palaestra consisted of an indoor facility for gymnastics, in addition to an outdoor area for running, jumping, and wrestling. When adulthood was reached, typically between the ages of 14 and 16, the site for fitness training switched from palaestras to gymnasiums (8). Exercise in the palaestra and gymnasium was supervised by the paidotribe, who is similar to the modern fitness trainer. This idealistic fitness situation existed most strongly within Athens, which has been characterized as a democratic society most similar to the United States.
Sparta
The Spartans of Northern Greece valued fitness even more than the Athenians. However, the heightened interest in fitness within Spartan culture was primarily for military purposes. During this era, Greek states were frequently at war with each other. Fighting skills were highly correlated with physical fitness levels, making it imperative for individuals to maintain high fitness levels. Spartan society required males to enter special fitness programs at the age of six. From this point until adulthood, the government was responsible for the child’s upbringing and training. This upbringing consisted of rigorous training programs that ensured all boys would grow into highly fit adult soldiers. Females were also required to maintain good physical condition for the purpose of being able to have strong offspring who could serve the state (9). The military-dominated culture of Sparta resulted in one of the most physically fit societies in the history of mankind.

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