For Women’s History Month, a Look Back on the Start of Women’s Sport

March 5, 2019

Women have been involved in sports since the ancient world. Join us as we take a look back at where women’s sports began.

Just days ago, sports fashion giant Nike declared 2019 its year for women. The announcement reflects a historic time for women’s sports, as in this moment there is incredible momentum for women athletes, both elite and everyday competitors.

The history of women being athletes dates back as far as ancient civilization, but women’s sports are more popular with participants and viewers than ever before. Only decades ago, women athletes and advocates were still fighting to gain venues to compete. But as you know, sport teaches us how to pull out that power within us and to strive for greatness.

As the first company to create mainstream hemp-based CBD products, Dixie Botanicals® is here to support all athletes in their efforts to reach new heights. In celebration of Women’s History Month, we invite you to join us as we take a look back at the earliest known origins of women’s sports and athletics.

Women’s Sports in Ancient History

Women’s involvement in sport dates back to the ancient world. Thanks to writings, inscriptions, and archaeology, historians and scientists are able to make educated speculations on the historical record of women’s sports participation throughout ancient history.

Heraean Games
A statue of a victress of the Heraean Games, represented near the start of a race

The earliest known women’s involvement in organized sport occurred at the ancient Heraean Games three millennia ago, around 776 B.C. or so. The Heraean Games, which took place every four years, was an athletic festival involving a series of running events in which only women competed. If mythology is true, Hippodameia, the wife of King Pelops (founder of the Olympics), started the Heraean Games.3

These women athlete-only games, held to honor the Greek mythological goddess Hera, took place in the same stadium as the ancient Olympic Games. Women, however, used a separate track, one 5/6 the length of the men’s, and winners were awarded pomegranates, olive wreath crowns, slices of a sacrificial cow or ox, and the right to dedicate statues inscribed with their names.3

Elsewhere, paintings and carvings on tombs suggest that women of ancient Egypt were involved in swimming and played ball games that resembled soccer. While there isn’t any evidence or organized competitions, it’s likely that Egyptian women could be physically active and compete in sports freely.

Across Africa, women were involved in wrestling. Women from the Diola, Yala, and the Njabi ethnic groups would incorporate wrestling into their ritual into adulthood. The Diola would even use wrestling as part of determining marriage arrangements, with the male champion marrying the female champion.1

Women in Sparta, a warrior society in ancient Greece, were allowed to participate in the same athletic events as the men. Spartan women regularly practiced sport and did athletic activity, mostly as part of their warrior training. They would engage in various sport competitions, including mini-contests of running, wrestling, discus, and javelin. But, participation in such contests was often restricted to unmarried girls, and only boys were invited to watch in order to promote marriage.2,6

In Rome, some women that came from wealthy families were permitted to participate in men’s athletic festivals. Records of these occurrences are few, however, indicating that it only happened under special circumstances. There are also some accounts of women participating in ball games and swimming around this time.4

Cynisca
Painting of Cynisca by Sophie de Renneville

There’s also evidence that in first-century A.D., a handful of young women competed in either footraces or chariot races at Delphi, Isthmia, and Nemea. Historians believe that these young women likely competed against each other, rather than the event being co-ed.6

The first woman Olympic champion was Cynisca, an expert equestrian and the daughter of Archidamus II, the King of Sparta. While no women’s events were included in the ancient Olympic Games, Cynisca won the four-horse chariot race both in 396 and 392 BC, becoming the first woman champion of the Olympics. A bronze statue of her chariot and horses was erected in the Temple of Zeus in Athens with the inscription declaring her “the only woman in all Hellas to have won this crown.”5

Women Athletes Pushing to New Heights

Dixie Botanicals® sees the value of consistently supporting sports and the athletes who participate in them. We recognize that while elite athletes are most celebrated, all athletes deserve championing. Our CBD products, made from unique cultivars of high-CBD hemp, are designed to encourage peak performance and faster recovery, so that you can achieve your own athletic goals.

Learn more about CBD and its influence on athletes through the Dixie Botanicals® blog.

References:

  1. A General Introduction to the History of Women in Sports. (2017, September 25). World History Archive. Retrieved from https://worldhistoryarchive.wordpress.com/2017/09/25/a-general-introduction-to-the-history-of-women-in-sports/.
  2. Ancient Greek Women in Sport. (2009). Elmira College. Retrieved from http://faculty.elmira.edu/dmaluso/sports/greece/greecewomen.html.
  3. Ancient Heraean Games. (n.d.). Health and Fitness History. Retrieved from https://healthandfitnesshistory.com/historical-athletes/ancient-heraean-games/.
  4. Athletics, Leisure, and Entertainment in Ancient Rome. (2012, January 18). Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from  https://www.ancient.eu/article/98/athletics-leisure-and-entertainment-in-ancient-rom/.
  5. Cynisca and the Heraean Games: The Female Athletes of Ancient Greece. (2006, August 21). The Wire. Retrieved from https://thewire.in/history/cynisca-and-the-heraean-games-the-female-athletes-of-ancient-greece.
  6. Games for Girls. (2004, April 6). Archaeology. Retrieved from https://archive.archaeology.org/online/features/olympics/girls.html.

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