The Hellanodikai (Ancient Greek: Ἑλλανοδίκαι, literally meaning Judges of the Greeks) were the judges of the Ancient Olympic Games, and the success of the games are attributed to their efforts. It was their sacred duty to maintain the standards and legacy of the games, as well as uphold the rules. Originally the title was Agonothetai (meaning game organisers), but was changed to Hellanodikai soon after.
Originally, there was only one Hellanodikos, but this expanded, reaching as high as twelve members and then settling on ten in 348 BC. They supervised individual events, with a senior Hellanodikos as an overseer.
Hellanodikai were handpicked from people living in the region of Elis, as Elis was responsible for the running of the Olympics. Originally the post was hereditary, but this was changed, and an Elean from each of the ruling families were elected as a Hellanodikos. Their post only lasted for one Olympiad, and elections took place for each of the subsequent games.
Besides being judges and umpires, the Hellanodikai also were the general organisers, and were present at every ceremony and event that took place, having the honour of presenting the crowns and palm branches to the winners. They were also expected to police the games.
In the ten months preceding the games, the Hellanodikai lived in a specially made building in Elis, called the Hellanodikaion. This building was close to the gymnasiums where the athletes trained in preparation for the games. While staying at the Hellanodikaion, they were trained by the nomophylakes (νομοφύλακες, meaning 'guardians of the law') in the rules and regulations of the games.
Another task for the Hellanodikai was to supervise the training of the athletes, where they selected those who were well trained, rejecting those who were not performing at a satisfactory level. The trainers for the individual athletes had to be present, but could not intervene or they were punished accordingly. They evaluated each athlete on behaviour, character and morality, as well as the more standard attributes such as power, stamina, and resistance. Those that were approved were entered into a special list called the leukoma (λεύκωμα).
Two days before the games, the athletes which were eligible left Elis for Olympia, in a procession led by the Hellanodikai.
The Hellanodikai were renowned for their fairness, and the public held them in high regard. While bribery and cheating among the athletes was commonplace, there was only one recorded case of corruption among the judges, where a Hellanodikos won two equestrian events. To remain impartial, the Hellanodikai were no longer allowed to participate in the games, and this remained the only blemish on their otherwise impeccable record.
- "Ancient Judges (Hellanodikai)". Retrieved November 14, 2004.