The memory of ancient Olympia lives on in the form of the modern Olympic Games. But in the ancient era, Olympia was renowned for far more than its athletic contests. In Olympia, Judith Barringer provides a comprehensive and richly illustrated history of one of the most important sites in the ancient Greek and Roman world, where athletic competitions took place alongside—and were closely connected with—crucial religious and political activities.
Barringer describes the development of the Altis, the most sacred area of Olympia, where monuments to athletes successful in the games joined those erected to the gods and battlefield victories. Rival city-states and rulers built monuments to establish eminence, tout alliances, and join this illustrious company in a rich intergenerational dialogue. The political importance of Olympia was matched by its place as the largest sanctuary dedicated to Zeus, king of the gods. Befitting Zeus’s role as god of warfare, the Olympian oracle was consulted to ensure good omens for war, and the athletic games embodied the fierce competition of battle. Other gods and heroes were worshipped at Olympia too, Hera, Artemis, and Herakles among them.
Drawing on a comprehensive knowledge of the archaeological record, Barringer describes the full span of Olympia’s history, from the first monumental building around 600 BC to the site’s gradual eclipse in the late Christianized Roman empire. Extensively illustrated with maps and diagrams, Olympia brings the development of Olympia vividly to life for modern readers.
Awards and Recognition
- Longlisted for the Runciman Award, Anglo-Hellenic League
"Despite the site’s significance, the sheer quantity of material from and about Olympia means that producing an overview is a daunting prospect, and there has been a longstanding need for a detailed, up-to-date, English-language overview of the history of Olympia. Barringer’s book admirably fills that need, and will immediately become an essential point of reference"—Paul Christesen, Current World Archaeology
"Barringer has done a superb job of sifting through the modern literature and adding her own insights so as to produce a fresh and comprehensive account of the site-history of Olympia, with modern controversies and debates highlighted and summarized. There is much here that will be new to others who, like me, thought they had a general familiarity with the site."—Tony Spawforth, Mediterranean Historical Review
"Barringer’s work is both a monument to those who once achieved the extraordinary Olympic honour of being allowed to erect semi-godlike imagery of themselves within the Altis and may well be worthy of such kleos itself."—Dr. John A. Martino, The Journal of Classics Teaching
“A new book from Judith Barringer is an event, and the subject of this one could hardly be more engaging or topical as the world fights to hold the Olympics amid a universal pandemic. Barringer rises to the task magnificently with this splendid cultural study, which spans the entire history of the site of the original Olympic Games.”—Paul Cartledge, author of Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece
“By integrating ruins and archaeological finds, rituals and sports, and practical organization and daily life into a compelling narrative, this refreshing cultural history of ancient Olympia will appeal to a broad audience.”—Tonio Hölscher, Heidelberg University
“Barringer superbly combines the careful assessment of the evidence with shrewd analyses and critique of previous scholarship. She presents complex and controversial topics in a way that will satisfy the scholar and the general reader alike.”—Marion Meyer, University of Vienna
“Well researched, well illustrated, well written, and often provocative, this is the first synoptic cultural history of Olympia in English. It’s an indispensable resource for anyone interested in the greatest and most famous of ancient Greek sanctuaries.”—Andrew Stewart, University of California, Berkeley
“The enormous richness and complexity of the remains at Olympia find their ideal interpreter in Judith Barringer. Her mastery of the site's intricacies is matched by her insight into the meanings of its statues and stones. Amply illustrated and painstakingly researched, her book will be a definitive resource for many years to come.”—James S. Romm, Bard College
“Olympia is destined to become a classic. Comprehensive, accessible, and richly illustrated, it fills a longstanding need for a clear, contextual, and up-to-date treatment of one of the most important sanctuaries in the ancient world. It will be the standard for a very long time to come.”—Jeffrey M. Hurwit, University of Oregon
“This book is a pleasure to read. Barringer knows Olympia intimately and brings to her task great credibility as a scholar of Greek art and archaeology. The reader instinctively trusts her judgment.”—Catherine M. Keesling, Georgetown University