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This was the name given by the Greeks to the professional competitors for the prizes in gymnastic contests, such as boxing and the pancration, a combination of boxing with wrestling. The athletoe practised gymnastics as a means of livelihood, whereas in general Greek society it was regarded as a liberal art, useful for the harmonious development of the body, and as a training for military service. The professional athletes adopted a special regimen, which produced an exceptional development of bodily strength and muscle, but unfitted them for any other kind of life or pursuit. The profession of athlete was accordingly adopted mainly by men of low birth, and was more popular with the multitude than with persons of intelligence and education. Greek athletes did not make their appearance in Rome before 186 B.C. In the republican age they were not regarded with great favour; but under Augustus their contests became quite popular. No social stigma attached to them, as to actors and gladiators, and under the Empire they formed themselves into regular societies, each with its own president, travelling from place to place at the festivals, at which they would appear in pairs, arranged by lot, for a high remuneration. In 86 A.D. Domitian established a contest on the Capitol for musicians and athletes, to recur every four years; and erected a special race-course for the athletes on the Campus Martius. The Capitoline contest survived during the whole of antiquity.
Type: Standard
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