Funeral games

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For other uses, see Funeral games (disambiguation).

Funeral games are athletic competitions held in honor of a recently deceased person. The celebration of funeral games was common to a number of ancient civilizations. Athletics and games such as wrestling are depicted on Sumerian statues dating from approximately 2600 BC,[1] and according to numerous traditions, funeral games were a regular feature of Mycenean Greek society. The Iliad describes the funeral games held by Achilles in honor of Patroclus,[2] and a similar competition was attributed by Virgil to Aeneas, who held games on the anniversary of his father's death.[3] Many of the contests were similar to those held at the Olympic Games, and although held in honor of Zeus, many scholars see the origin of Olympic competition in these earlier funeral games.[4]

Similar competitions known as Aonachs were held in Ireland, the most famous of which was the Aonach Tailteann, held at the fair of Tailltean. According to the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, the fair was established by the legendary king Lugh Lámhfhada (reigned 1849 to 1809 BC) in honor of his foster-mother, Tailtiu.[5] These games are known to have been held during Ireland's medieval period, perhaps as early as the sixth century, but died out after the Norman Invasion of Ireland in the twelfth century. Some sources date the games themselves to the midpoint of Lugh's reign, in 1829 BC, claiming that they predate the Greek Olympics by over a thousand years, and even that they were the inspiration for the Olympic Games.[6]


  1. ^ David Chiu (1 August 2004). Wrestling: Rules, Tips, Strategy, and Safety. The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 5–. ISBN 978-1-4042-0187-3. Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  2. ^ Homer, Iliad book 23.
  3. ^ Publius Vergilius Maro, Aeneid book 5.
  4. ^ Wendy J. Raschke (15 June 1988). Archaeology Of The Olympics: The Olympics & Other Festivals In Antiquity. Univ of Wisconsin Press. pp. 22–. ISBN 978-0-299-11334-6. Retrieved 12 August 2012. 
  5. ^ Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters: From the Earliest Period to the Year 1171 John O'Donovan, translator and editor (Dublin, 1849).
  6. ^ William H. Freeman (21 January 2011). Physical Education, Exercise and Sport Science in a Changing Society. Jones & Bartlett Publishers. pp. 80–. ISBN 978-0-7637-8157-6. Retrieved 12 August 2012.