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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").[3] In Greek the plural form, Γυμνοπαιδίαι, appears most often.[citation needed][4][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, and several authors in the Attic and Koine Greek periods.

The festival, dedicated to Apollo, was celebrated every year in the summertime with gymnastic contests.[5] The festival lasted for several, perhaps for ten, days. The statues of Apollo, Artemis and Leto stood in a part of the Agora, and it was around these statues that the Spartan youths performed their choruses and dances in honour of Apollo. On the last day grown men also performed choruses and dances in the theatre, and during these gymnastic exhibitions they sang the songs.[6]

Plato praises gymnopaedia-like exercises and performances in The Laws as a medium of education: by dancing in the summer heat, Spartan youth were trained in both musical grace and warrior grit simultaneously. The boys in their dances performed rhythmic movements that resembled the exercises of the palaestra and the pancration, and also imitated the dance of tragedy.[7]

The Gymnopaedia was also held in memory of Sparta's defeat by Argos at Hysiai in 669 or 668 BC. By recognizing their defeat, the Spartans hoped to appease the gods and prevent future defeats. During the festive days, those Spartans who had fallen on that occasion were always praised in songs at this festival.[8]The military style of dancing reinforces the emphasis on military success in Spartan society.

In ancient Greece, sports were generally reserved for men, and were performed gymnos (naked). Aristophanes' plays 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]

The whole season of the gymnopaediae, during which Sparta was visited by great numbers of strangers, was one of great merriment and rejoicings.[9]

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]

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. ^ Wiktionary
  4. ^ Singular: see Plutarch, Moralia 208d.
  5. ^ Pausanias, Desrciption of Ancient Greece, 3.11.7
  6. ^ Pausanias, Desrciption of Ancient Greece, 3.11.7
  7. ^ Hippagoras ap. Ath. xiv. p. 631
  8. ^ Plutarch, Life of Agesilaus 29
  9. ^ Xenophon, Memorabilia'c 1.2.61; Plutarch, Life of Agesilaus


External links[edit]