Famous Dogs in History, from Ancient Greece until Today

Famous Dogs in History, from Ancient Greece until Today

History abounds with stories of the victorious humans who shaped the world into what it is today. But rarely do we stop and consider the dogs who worked, lived, and fought alongside these humans. Here are some of the most famous dogs in history and their stories.

Soter, Greece

In 456 BC, the city of Corinth was guarded by 50 dogs who had been trained to warn the citizens of the city when they were about to be attacked. As the Persians tried to sneak in and invade the city, they killed 49 of the 50 dogs, and had an almost clear and uninterrupted path as the citizens remained unaware of their arrival.

However, one brave dog named Soter managed to escape the Persians. He was able to alert the citizens of Corinth of the impending invasion, and the Greeks were able to rise up and defend their city against the Persians.

The citizens were so grateful to Soter that they presented him with a silver collar inscribed with the following words: “To Soter, defender and savior of Corinth.” They also erected a statue to commemorate Soter and the 49 brave dogs that died that night.

Donnchadh has become a famous dog because of his actions to save his owner Robert the Bruce in the 1300s.

Donnchadh, Scotland

There are few dogs who have changed the course of history in two different countries and over centuries. A loyal bloodhound named Donnchadh, who belonged to King Robert the Bruce of Scotland, did exactly that with one faithful act.

In 1306, the English had captured Robert the Bruce’s wife and his dog, Donnchadh. They devised a plan to use Robert the Bruce’s dog to track him down and uncover his hiding place. The soldiers released the dog, who was able to find his owner, but surprised the English when he turned on them and defended his master, driving the soldiers away.

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Throughout history there have been many famous dogs. Dog statue in Keramikos cemetery in Athens, Greece. ( Konstantinos / Adobe Stock)

Robert the Bruce survived because of his dog’s intervention, and went on to become King of Scotland. Four centuries later, King George III, a direct descendant of Robert the Bruce, would aggressively enforce the British trade laws with the American colonies.

The disputes that arose between the American colonies and the British was what led to independence of the United States. Had Robert the Bruce not been rescued by Donnchadh, King George III would never have been born, and America may not be where it is today.

Barry was a famous St. Bernard rescue dog in the 1800s. This exhibit is included in the Natural History Museum in Bern. (PraktikantinNMBE / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Barry, Switzerland

Legends abound of this gentle giant , who worked in the mountains of Switzerland as an avalanche rescue dog for the Great St Bernard Hospice. Barry would rescue people on the Great St. Bernard Pass, which is at an elevation of 2,400 meters (7,874 feet) between Switzerland and Italy.

It’s said that between 1800 and 1812, Barry rescued over 40 people, which helped to secure his spot in our list of famous dogs in history. He would find travelers who were in trouble and he would either dig them out of the snow, keep them warm, or run back to the monastery, where he’d alert the monks and get help.

Barry eventually retired and was sent to Bern in Switzerland, where he lived out the rest of his days peacefully until he passed on at the age of fourteen. The legend of Barry has lived on, and you can see the stories of his heroic acts at the Natural History Museum in Bern, Switzerland.

Saurr became kind in 11 th-century Trondheim.

Saurr, Norway

Many pet owners are guilty of treating their dogs like royalty, but in the case of Saurr, he truly was a royal dog. The story goes that in the 11th century, King Eystein of Drontheim had conquered the city of Trondheim, which he left to his son Onund to rule.

A whale later, Onund was assassinated. Enraged by this act, King Eystein gave the people a choice: to choose their new king from his slave, Thorer Fax, or his dog, Saurr. The citizens of Trondheim chose the dog, as they believed they’d have their kingdom back and would be free to govern themselves.

Legend has said that this particularly famous dog was gifted with the intelligence and wisdom of three men, and could speak in human tongues. Saurr ruled the kingdom for three years, during which he was treated like royalty, fed only the best food , and was given a gold and silver collar with jewels.

Saurr lived a pampered life as Dog King, but he was also the shepherd to the royal cattle. After ruling the kingdom for three years, Saurr died defending the cattle from a pack of wolves.

Peritas was the famous dog of Alexander the Great and accompanied him during military expeditions.

Peritas, Greece

Alexander the Great (356 BC – 323 BC) is known to have had one of the greatest military minds in history, and created one of the largest empires the world has ever seen. What people may not know is that he did this with his favorite dog, Peritas, by his side.

The legend of Peritas’ bravery came about when he saved Alexander the Great by protecting him from his enemies, who had him trapped. Peritas fought off the men, which bought the wounded Alexander time until his soldiers were able to reach him and save his life.

Due to the wounds he had sustained, Peritas passed away. However, his name lives on in the Indian city of Peritas, which Alexander named after his favorite dog. If you travel to Peritas, you’ll still see the statue of the loyal dog at the entrance to the city.

Illustration of Saint Guinefort, a greyhound who was made a saint in the 13th century after saving an infant from a snake. (L. Bower / CC0)

Guinefort, France

In the 13th century, a nobleman left his child in the nursery with his trusted greyhound, Guinefort. When he returned, he found the nursery room in chaos, with the baby’s cot overturned and blood on his dog’s face.

The nobleman became enraged, assuming the worst, and killed the dog before discovering that his child was unharmed. As he surveyed the scene, he realized that the brave Guinefort had killed a venomous snake, protecting his son. Filled with remorse, the nobleman buried the dog in a well, where he erected a shrine in his honor.

Word of Guinefort’s bravery reached the local villagers, who began to visit the burial place of the dog every day. The villagers ended up praying to the dog for protection and help for their children who were ill. With reports of miracles that happened at Guinefort’s grave site, he was venerated as a saint. Guinefort is the only dog in the world that has been declared a saint, “for the protection of infants.”

Balto became a famous dog after successfully delivering diphtheria antitoxin to Nome in Alaska in 1925. The lead dog for the final stretch of the expedition, he can be seen here with Gunnar Kaasen the musher of the last team.

Balto, Alaska

When a diphtheria epidemic swept through Nome, Alaska in 1925, during brutal winter storms and temperatures of -85 degrees Fahrenheit (-65 C), the only chance the citizens of Nome had were 20 mushers with their dog-sled teams. These teams set off on what’s become known as the “Great Race of Mercy,” to fetch the desperately needed vaccine for the disease sweeping the area.

The teams ran relays, but Balto was the leader of the last team of dogs to bring the much-needed serum into Nome. He was only three at the time, but he rose to the challenge despite gale force winds, ice, and deep snow. It took Balto and the other teams of sled dogs approximately 5 days to deliver the precious cargo. Balto eventually died from old age, but his story lives on as sled teams from around the world come together to run the serum route in the Iditarod every March.

During the so-called “Greek Dark Ages” before the Archaic period, people lived scattered throughout Greece in small farming villages. As they grew larger, these villages began to evolve. Some built walls. Most built a marketplace (an agora) and a community meeting place. They developed governments and organized their citizens according to some sort of constitution or set of laws. They raised armies and collected taxes. And every one of these city-states (known as poleis) was said to be protected by a particular god or goddess, to whom the citizens of the polis owed a great deal of reverence, respect and sacrifice. (Athens’s deity was Athena, for example so was Sparta’s.)

Did you know? Greek military leaders trained the heavily armed hoplite soldiers to fight in a massive formation called a phalanx: standing shoulder to shoulder, the men were protected by their neighbor&aposs shield. This intimidating technique played an important role in the Persian Wars and helped the Greeks build their empire.

Classical Rhetoric 101: A Brief History

This is the second in a series on classical rhetoric. In this post, we lay the foundation of our study of rhetoric by taking a look at its history. While this post is in no way a comprehensive history of rhetoric, it should give you enough background information to understand the context of the principles we’ll be discussing over the next few months.

Humans have studied and praised rhetoric since the early days of the written word. The Mesopotamians and Ancient Egyptians both valued the ability to speak with eloquence and wisdom. However, it wasn’t until the rise of Greek democracy that rhetoric became a high art that was studied and developed systematically.

Rhetoric in Ancient Greece: The Sophists

Many historians credit the ancient city-state of Athens as the birthplace of classical rhetoric. Because Athenian democracy marshaled every free male into politics, every Athenian man had to be ready to stand in the Assembly and speak to persuade his countrymen to vote for or against a particular piece of legislation. A man’s success and influence in ancient Athens depended on his rhetorical ability. Consequently, small schools dedicated to teaching rhetoric began to form. The first of these schools began in the 5th century B.C. among an itinerant group of teachers called the Sophists.

The Sophists would travel from polis to polis teaching young men in public spaces how to speak and debate. The most famous of the Sophists schools were led by Gorgias and Isocrates. Because rhetoric and public speaking were essential for success in political life, students were willing to pay Sophist teachers great sums of money in exchange for tutoring. A typical Sophist curriculum consisted of analyzing poetry, defining parts of speech, and instruction on argumentation styles. They taught their students how to make a weak argument stronger and a strong argument weak.

Sophists prided themselves on their ability to win any debate on any subject even if they had no prior knowledge of the topic through the use of confusing analogies, flowery metaphors, and clever wordplay. In short, the Sophists focused on style and presentation even at the expense of truth.

The negative connotation that we have with the word “sophist” today began in ancient Greece. For the ancient Greeks, a “sophist” was a man who manipulated the truth for financial gain. It had such a pejorative meaning that Socrates was executed by the Athenians on the charge of being a Sophist. Both Plato and Aristotle condemned Sophists for relying solely on emotion to persuade an audience and for their disregard for truth. Despite criticism from their contemporaries, the Sophists had a huge influence on developing the study and teaching of rhetoric.

Rhetoric in Ancient Greece: Aristotle and The Art of Rhetoric

While the great philosopher Aristotle criticized the Sophists’ misuse of rhetoric, he did see it as a useful tool in helping audiences see and understand truth. In his treatise, The Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle established a system of understanding and teaching rhetoric.

In The Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle defines rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” While Aristotle favored persuasion through reason alone, he recognized that at times an audience would not be sophisticated enough to follow arguments based solely on scientific and logical principles. In those instances, persuasive language and techniques were necessary for truth to be taught. Moreover, rhetoric armed a man with the necessary weapons to refute demagogues and those who used rhetoric for evil purposes. According to Aristotle, sometimes you had to fight fire with fire.

  • Three Means of Persuasion (logos, pathos, and ethos)
  • Three Genres of Rhetoric (deliberative, forensic, and epideictic)
  • Rhetorical topics
  • Parts of speech
  • Effective use of style

The Art of Rhetoric had a tremendous influence on the development of the study of rhetoric for the next 2,000 years. Roman rhetoricians Cicero and Quintilian frequently referred to Aristotle’s work, and universities required students to study The Art of Rhetoric during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Rhetoric in Ancient Rome: Cicero

Rhetoric was slow to develop in ancient Rome, but it started to flourish when that empire conquered Greece and began to be influenced by its traditions. While ancient Romans incorporated many of the rhetorical elements established by the Greeks, they diverged from the Grecian tradition in many ways. For example, orators and writers in ancient Rome depended more on stylistic flourishes, riveting stories, and compelling metaphors and less on logical reasoning than their ancient Greek counterparts.

The first master rhetorician Rome produced was the great statesman Cicero. During his career he wrote several treatises on the subject including On Invention, On Oration, and Topics. His writings on rhetoric guided schools on the subject well into Renaissance.

Cicero’s approach to rhetoric emphasized the importance of a liberal education. According to Cicero, to be persuasive a man needed knowledge in history, politics, art, literature, ethics, law, and medicine. By being liberally educated, a man would be able to connect with any audience he addressed.

Rhetoric in Ancient Rome: Quintilian

The second Roman to leave his mark on the study of rhetoric was Quintilian. After honing his rhetorical skills for years in the Roman courts, Quintilian opened a public school of rhetoric. There he developed a study system that took a student through different stages of intense rhetorical training. In 95 AD, Quintilian immortalized his rhetorical education system in a twelve-volume textbook entitled Institutio Oratoria.

Institutio Oratoria covers all aspects of the art of rhetoric. While Quintilian focuses primarily on the technical aspects of effective rhetoric, he also spends a considerable amount of time setting forth a curriculum he believes should serve as the foundation of every man’s education. In fact, Quintilian’s rhetorical education ideally begins as soon as a baby is born. For example, he counsels parents to find their sons nurses that are articulate and well-versed in philosophy.

Quintilian devotes much of his treatise to fleshing out and explaining the Five Canons of Rhetoric. First seen in Cicero’s De Inventione, the Five Canons provide a guide on creating a powerful speech. The Five Canons are:

  • inventio (invention): The process of developing and refining your arguments.
  • dispositio (arrangement): The process of arranging and organizing your arguments for maximum impact.
  • elocutio (style): The process of determining how you present your arguments using figures of speech and other rhetorical techniques.
  • memoria (memory): The process of learning and memorizing your speech so you can deliver it without the use of notes. Memory-work not only consisted of memorizing the words of a specific speech, but also storing up famous quotes, literary references, and other facts that could be used in impromptu speeches.
  • actio (delivery): The process of practicing how you deliver your speech using gestures, pronunciation, and tone of voice.

If you’ve taken a public speaking class, you were probably taught a version of the Five Canons. We’ll be revisiting these in more detail in a later post.

Rhetoric in Medieval Times and the Renaissance

During the Middle Ages, rhetoric shifted from political to religious discourse. Instead of being a tool to lead the state, rhetoric was seen as a means to save souls. Church Fathers, like St. Augustine, explored how they could use the “pagan” art of rhetoric to better spread the gospel to the unconverted and preach to the believers.

During the latter part of the Medieval period, universities began forming in France, Italy, and England where students took classes on grammar, logic, and (you guessed it) rhetoric. Medieval students poured over texts written by Aristotle to learn rhetorical theory and spent hours repeating rote exercises in Greek and Latin to improve their rhetorical skill. Despite the emphasis on a rhetorical education, however, Medieval thinkers and writers made few new contributions to the study of rhetoric.

Like the arts and sciences, the study of rhetoric experienced a re-birth during the Renaissance period. Texts by Cicero and Quintilian were rediscovered and utilized in courses of study for example, Quintilian’s De Inventione quickly became a standard rhetoric textbook at European universities. Renaissance scholars began producing new treatises and books on rhetoric, many of them emphasizing applying rhetorical skill in one’s own vernacular as opposed to Latin or ancient Greek.

Rhetoric in the Modern Day

The rejuvenation of rhetoric continued through the Enlightenment. As democratic ideals spread throughout Europe and the American colonies, rhetoric shifted back from religious to political discourse. Political philosophers and revolutionaries used rhetoric as a weapon in their campaign to spread liberty and freedom.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, universities in both Europe and America began devoting entire departments to the study of rhetoric. One of the most influential books on rhetoric that came out during this time was Hugh Blair’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles-Lettres. Published in 1783, Blair’s book remained a standard text on rhetoric at universities across Europe and America for over a hundred years.

The proliferation of mass media in the 20th century caused another shift in the study of rhetoric. Images in photography, film, and TV have become powerful tools of persuasion. In response, rhetoricians have expanded their repertoire to include not only mastery of the written and spoken word, but a grasp of the visual arts as well.

Alright, that does it for this edition of Classical Rhetoric 101. Join us next time as we explore the Three Persuasive Appeals in rhetoric.

The Roman Take on Pederasty

The Romans were not as open to the practice of pederasty, as they were not open to many of the Greek ideals or ways of life. The ways of the Greeks were often seen as beneath them, despite the fact that a lot of Roman culture and myth is taken and expanded upon from the Greeks . The Romans would pursue sexual relationships with younger men, but these relationships were only seen as forgivable if the older man was a freeborn Roman and he was having sex with a younger slave or prostitute who wasn’t of Roman origin. The Lex Scantinia was a law set in place in Rome that penalized sex with a young freeborn male, preventing any form of pederasty as the Greeks practiced it from happening in Rome.

Greek wall painting known as the Tomb of the Diver , depicting pederastic scenes at a symposium, Brown University

It should be noted that the younger boys involved in pederastic relationships were often of the same age as young girls who were set into arranged marriages with much older men, around the ages of 12 to 16. This occurred in both Greek and Roman culture. The rituals of marriage symbolized a girl becoming a woman, just as a pederastic relationship symbolized a boy becoming a man. Another important note to make is that there is little to no evidence of a pederastic relationship existing between two women. Women were often highly secluded from men, and this could account for the lack of documentation of female pederasty, if it did exist. This does not make these relationships exempt from scrutiny in the present day, as modern research has proven that romantic or sexual relationships between teenagers and adults with this type of power dynamic have very negative impacts to the mental health and development of the teenager in both men and women .

Small Ancient Dog Breeds

16. Pug

Did you know this popular breed hails from Tibet? Like some ancient breeds, the Pug’s origins are shrouded in mystery. We do know that they were a companion dog in Buddhist monasteries as far back as 400 BCE.

These outgoing dogs are cheerful and curious. They are known to be even-tempered, which makes them predictable and trainable. Pug owners say these clowns bring mirth and entertainment into any situation. They are lovable with everyone.

The facial structures of these dogs make them snort and snore most of the time. Also, care must be taken to keep them from over-heating or becoming too cold. Care must be taken with diet as these little pups can really pack on the pounds.

17. Lhasa Apso

Another of the ancient dog breeds that hails from the monasteries of Tibet, the Lhasa Apso, surprisingly, was a watchdog for palaces and monasteries. These little dogs have a lot going for them. For starters, they are great for apartment living.

Friendly and affectionate, they do great in houses with kids and, usually, other pets. These pets also do well with alone time, not developing unwanted behaviors.

Like other watchdogs, dogs in this breed are wary and mistrustful of strangers. This can lead to aggression if not socialized properly. Like the watch dogs they are, they love to set the alarm – bark. Their long coats need quite a bit of care and grooming.

18. Pekingese

This ancient breed was considered sacred in China when they first arrived on the scene. Only royals could own them. What was the punishment for stealing one? Death!

Without much energy, these fur-babies are fine with just a little indoor playtime. These tiny dogs are easy to handle and good for first time dog owners. They do well with apartment life.

The ancient breeding of these canines as royal sacred animals led to them having a similar attitude. They do not like kids, strangers, or other pets. Pekingese are stubborn and hard to train. They are also hard to groom, and do not do well in hot weather.

19. Italian Greyhound

These tiny sight hounds have been observed in art of the Mediterranean Basin from around 2,000 years ago. Their origins trace back to Turkey and Greece.

Playful and affectionate, Italian Greyhounds make great family pets. They do well in houses with small yards, and apartments. Their short hair make them quick to bathe and easy to groom.

Like many small dogs, they do not do well in temperature extremes – being healthiest in moderate climates. Although they are now companion dogs, they still will bolt out the door like any sight hound. These ancient dog breeds must always be secured.

20. Shih Tzu

Bones found in China prove that this breed was there as early as 8,000 BCE. It is believed that this dog is another of the ancient dog breeds that hailed from Tibetan Monasteries.

As far we know, the Shih Tzu has always been a house pet, and they excel. They are friendly and entertaining. They are great for apartments and tolerate alone time better than some other lap dog breeds.

Because of facial structure, these fur-babies need regular teeth brushing. Their hair can be clipped short, but otherwise they need almost daily brushing. These ancient dogs do retain some prey drive and will bolt after things to chase

Divine Companions and Protectors: Dogs in Ancient Times

Dogs remained valued companions even as ancient civilizations rose around the world. Aside from being faithful companions, dogs became important cultural figures.

In Europe, the Middle East, and North America, walls, tombs, and scrolls bore depictions of dogs hunting game. Dogs were buried with their masters as early as 14,000 years ago, and statues of the canines stood guard at crypts.

The Chinese have always placed great importance on dogs, the first animals they domesticated. As gifts from heaven, dogs were thought to have sacred blood, so canine blood was essential in oaths and allegiances. Dogs were also sacrificed to prevent bad luck and keep disease at bay. Furthermore, dog amulets were carved from jade and worn for personal protection. (6)

Dog collars and pendants depicting dogs were also found in Ancient Sumer as well as Ancient Egypt, where they were considered companions to the gods. Allowed to roam freely in these societies, dogs also protected their masters’ herds and property. (6)

Amulets of the canines were carried for protection, and dog figurines made of clay were buried under buildings as well. The Sumerians also thought dog saliva was a medicinal substance that promoted healing.

In Ancient Greece, dogs were highly regarded as protectors and hunters as well. The Greeks invented the spiked collar to protect their dogs’ necks from predators (6). The ancient Greek school of philosophy Cynicism derives its name from kunikos, which means ‘dog-like’ in Greek. (7)

Four types of dog can be distinguished from Greek writings and art: the Laconian (a hound used for hunting deer and hares), Molossian, the Cretan (most likely a cross between the Laconian and Molossian), and the Melitan, a small, long-haired lap dog.

Furthermore, Ancient Roman law mentions dogs as guardians of the home and flock, and it prized canines over other pets such as cats. Dogs were also thought to provide protection against supernatural threats a dog barking at thin air is said to be warning its owners of the presence of spirits. (6)

Like in China and Greece, the Mayans and Aztecs also associated dogs with divinity, and they used canines in religious rituals and ceremonies. For these cultures, dogs served as guides for deceased souls in the afterlife and deserved to be respected in the same way as elders.

Famous Dogs in History, from Ancient Greece until Today - History

What were the Ancient Greek's homes like?

Greek homes were built around an outdoor courtyard. The courtyard was the center of activity. It usually had a well for water, an altar to worship the gods, and was a good place for the kids to play.

Around the courtyard were the rooms of the house. Different rooms included a work room, a store room, and bedrooms. Most of the time there also was a room called an andron where the men of the house would hang out and entertain their male friends or business associates. Sometimes there was a separate entrance to this room so visiting men would not see the women of the house. Generally the woman stayed away from the men in the house, especially visiting men. Oftentimes the house had a room set aside just for the women called a gynaikon.

The walls of Greek homes were made from sun dried bricks with small windows set high in the walls. They were designed to keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

What was it like growing up in Ancient Greece?

When a Greek child was born, the father could decide whether to keep the child or not. If the child appeared weak or was a girl, sometimes the father would abandon the child. Once a child was accepted by the father, he or she was treated well. Greek children had toys and spent the day playing games. When boys became seven years old, they started school. They learned math, reading, and writing. Sometimes they would also learn a musical instrument. When they got older they learned how to debate. Girls did not go to school. Children were considered adults by the age of 13.

What food did they eat?

The Ancient Greeks mostly ate bread dipped in wine, cheeses, fish, olives, and vegetables. Meat like pork or beef was only eaten on rare occasions such as festivals. Watered down wine was the main drink.

The men would often have dinner parties for their friends. They would start at sundown and run until late. Only the men attended, women were not allowed.

What clothes did they wear?

The ancient Greeks wore a tunic called a chitin. Both men and women wore the chitin. It was a basic tunic made from a single rectangle of cloth cut into two. It was fastened at different places and a belt was used at the waist. There were chitins of different lengths and colors. They were generally made out of a thin wool material. Some people could afford linen or even silk chitins.

Jobs in Ancient Greece

There were many jobs for men in Ancient Greece including farmer, fisherman, soldier, teacher, government worker, and craftsman. The women, however, were generally homemakers and would raise the children and cook the meals.

A History of Gymnastics: From Ancient Greece to Modern Times

Find out about the Ancient Greek origin of gymnastics, and learn additional details about modern competitions and scoring.

The sport of gymnastics, which derives its name from the ancient Greek word for disciplinary exercises, combines physical skills such as body control, coordination, dexterity, gracefulness, and strength with tumbling and acrobatic skills, all performed in an artistic manner. Gymnastics is performed by both men and women at many levels, from local clubs and schools to colleges and universities, and in elite national and international competitions.

Gymnastics was introduced in early Greek civilization to facilitate bodily development through a series of exercises that included running, jumping, swimming, throwing, wrestling, and weight lifting. Many basic gymnastic events were practiced in some form before the introduction by the Greeks of gymnazein, literally, "to exercise naked." Physical fitness was a highly valued attribute in ancient Greece, and both men and women participated in vigorous gymnastic exercises. The Romans, after conquering Greece, developed the activities into a more formal sport, and they used the gymnasiums to physically prepare their legions for warfare. With the decline of Rome, however, interest in gymnastics dwindled, with tumbling remaining as a form of entertainment.

In 1774, a Prussian, Johann Bernhard Basedow, included physical exercises with other forms of instruction at his school in Dessau, Saxony. With this action began the modernization of gymnastics, and also thrust the Germanic countries into the forefront in the sport. In the late 1700s, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn of Germany developed the side bar, the horizontal bar, the parallel bars, the balance beam, and jumping events. He, more than anyone else, is considered the "father of modern gymnastics." Gymnastics flourished in Germany in the 1800s, while in Sweden a more graceful form of the sport, stressing rhythmic movement, was developed by Guts Muth. The opening (1811) of Jahn's school in Berlin, to promote his version of the sport, was followed by the formation of many clubs in Europe and later in England. The sport was introduced to the United States by Dr. Dudley Allen Sargent, who taught gymnastics in several U.S. universities about the time of the Civil War, and who is credited with inventing more than 30 pieces of apparatus. Most of the growth of gymnastics in the United States centered on the activities of European immigrants, who introduced the sport in their new cities in the 1880s. Clubs were formed as Turnverein and Sokol groups, and gymnasts were often referred to as "turners." Modern gymnastics excluded some traditional events, such as weight lifting and wrestling, and emphasized form rather than personal rivalry.

Men's gymnastics was on the schedule of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, and it has been on the Olympic agenda continually since 1924. Olympic gymnastic competition for women began in 1936 with an all-around competition, and in 1952 competition for the separate events was added. In the early Olympic competitions the dominant male gymnasts were from Germany, Sweden, Italy, and Switzerland, the countries where the sport first developed. But by the 1950s, Japan, the Soviet Union, and the Eastern European countries began to produce the leading male and female gymnasts.

Modern gymnastics gained considerable popularity because of the performances of Olga Korbut of the Soviet Union in the 1972 Olympics, and Nadia Comaneci of Romania in the 1976 Olympics. The widespread television coverage of these dramatic performances gave the sport the publicity that it lacked in the past. Many countries other than the traditional mainstays at the time &mdash the USSR, Japan, East and West Germany, and other Eastern European nations &mdash began to promote gymnastics, particularly for women among these countries were China and the United States.

Modern international competition has six events for men and four events for women. The men's events are the rings, parallel bars, horizontal bar, side or pommel-horse, long or vaulting horse, and floor (or free) exercise. These events emphasize upper body strength and flexibility along with acrobatics. The women's events are the vaulting horse, balance beam, uneven bars, and floor exercise, which is performed with musical accompaniment. These events combine graceful, dancelike movements with strength and acrobatic skills. In the United States, tumbling and trampoline exercises are also included in many competitions.

Teams for international competitions are made up of six gymnasts. In the team competition each gymnast performs on every piece of equipment, and the team with the highest number of points wins. There is also a separate competition for the all-around title, which goes to the gymnast with the highest point total after performing on each piece of equipment, and a competition to determine the highest score for each individual apparatus.

Another type of competitive gymnastics for women is called rhythmic gymnastics, an Olympic sport since 1984. Acrobatic skills are not used. The rhythmic gymnast performs graceful, dancelike movements while holding and moving items such as a ball, hoop, rope, ribbon, or Indian clubs, with musical accompaniment. Routines are performed individually or in group performances for six gymnasts.

Gymnastic competitions are judged and scored on both an individual and a team basis. Each competitor must accomplish a required number of specific types of moves on each piece of equipment. Judges award points to each participant in each event on a 0-to-10 scale, 10 being perfect. Judging is strictly subjective however, guidelines are provided for judges so that they can arrive at relatively unbiased scores.

Usually there are four judges, and the highest and lowest scores are dropped to provide a more objective evaluation. Gymnasts try to perform the most difficult routines in the most graceful way, thus impressing the judges with their mastery of the sport.

Bott, Jenny, Rhythmic Gymnastics (1995) Cooper, Phyllis S., and Trnka, Milan, Teaching Basic Gymnastics, 3d ed. (1993) Feeney, Rik, Gymnastics: A Guide for Parents and Athletes (1992) Karolyi, Bela, Feel No Fear (1994) Lihs, Harriet R., Teaching Gymnastics, 2d ed. (1994) YMCA Gymnastics, 3d ed. (1990).


We are pretty sure you’ve guessed it but yes, ancient Greece gave us the Olympic Games. The phenomenal sporting competition that we know today was actually invented around 776 BC and held every four years in Olympia, in Peloponnese. These games lasted for over 1,000 years before they were abolished when Christianity reached Greece. Another visible legacy in the world of sports is the marathon. The race was actually not part of a sport competition but just the distance a soldier ran from the battlefield to Athens to announce the victory of Athenians against the Persians in 490 BC.

Ancient Traditions

The first Olympics were held in Olympia, a Greek City State. The games were held after every four years, a tradition that remains today although more days have been added to the event to accommodate the many games of modern Olympics. The first Olympics were held in 776 BC as part of religious functions in honor of Zeus, the god of god. Although many of the games were barbaric in nature, most of games played in ancient Olympics have evolved and new ones have been invented. The Olympic games are some of the most attended global events to date.

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