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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.[2]

Corybantian dance, the type of dance most likely danced on Gymnopedia festivals (image from Smith's Dictionary of Antiquities).


The word Gymnopaedia derives from the ancient Greek Γυμνοπαιδίαι, composed of the words γυμνός (gymnos, "naked" or "unarmed") and παιδιά "game" from παῖς (pais, "child" or "youth").[citation needed] In Greek the plural form, Γυμνοπαιδίαι, appears most often.[citation needed][3][full citation needed]

In addition to gymnopaedia, modern transliterations and adaptations include gymnopaidiai (mostly older translations of Greek texts, maintaining a plural form for the word),[citation needed] gymnopaidiae (Latinized plural form),[citation needed] gymnopedia,[citation needed] gymnopaedie (in German),[citation needed] and gymnopédie (in French, including Erik Satie's Gymnopédies).

Ancient Greece[edit]

The word Gymnopaedia appears in texts of Herodotus,[citation needed] and several authors in the Attic[citation needed] and Koine Greek[citation needed] periods. While for the earliest of these authors the meaning of Gymnopaedia appears predominantly as a festival (including dances, sports, and other activities),[citation needed] in later antiquity gymnopaedia refers to a specific dance.[citation needed]

The festival, celebrated in the summertime, was dedicated to Apollo[citation needed] According to Plutarch, the festival was also dedicated to Athena.[citation needed] Plato praises gymnopaedia-like exercises and performances in The Laws as a medium of education: by dancing strenuously in the summer heat, Spartan youth were trained in both musical grace and warrior grit simultaneously.[citation needed]

The Gymnopaedia was also held in memory of Sparta's defeat by Argos at Hysiai in 669 or 668 BC.[citation needed] By recognizing their defeat, the Spartans hoped to appease the gods and prevent future defeats.[citation needed] The military style of dancing reinforces the emphasis on military success in Spartan society.[citation needed]

In ancient Greece, sports were generally reserved for men, and were performed gymnos (naked).[citation needed] Aristophanes' plays[citation needed] and other sources[citation needed] suggest that women in Sparta also exercised publicly in the nude. Some modern opinion, therefore, suggests that this festival included the dancing of young women to show their strength and worthiness to give birth to strong men,[citation needed] and also to promote eugenic marriage and population growth,[citation needed] with which Sparta would later struggle.[citation needed]

Public performance of such sports generally took place in a ceremonial setting, such as of a religious feast.[citation needed] While not all ceremonial sports were competitive,[citation needed] some included an element of competition for the most beautiful movement, or for speed or strength.[citation needed] Many sports in ancient Greece resembled dance more than they did modern track and field competitions.[citation needed]

Roman era[edit]

Eight centuries after the first gymnopaedia, it the festival survived in Lacedaemonia into the Roman era.[citation needed] According to Lucian of Samosata's dialogue Of Pantomime, it retained some connection to martial arts, as the youths would engage in gymnopaedia immediately after their daily military training.[full citation needed] On the other hand, he describes the gymnopaedia as "yet another dance", neither involving nudity nor exclusivity for men.[full citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Paul Cartledge, Spartan Reflections p.102
  2. ^ Smith, William, ed. (1890). A dictionary of Greek and Roman antiquities. Vol. 1. London: John Murray. p. 931. 
  3. ^ Singular: see Plutarch, Moralia 208d.


External links[edit]