HERAEAN GAMES (The Ancient Olympics) – Spartian women’s sport in honor of Greek Goddess Hera

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Ancient Olympian competition and festival

Held every fourth year in honor of the Greek Goddess Hera

Held in the oldest temple at Olympia, an ancient rural sanctuary site in Greece.

The women competed in footloose and the champions of the event were rewarded with olive crowns and meat from the animal sacrificed to Hera.

They were also allowed to dedicate statues and portraits to Hera. Winners would also inscribe their names on the columns of Hera’s temple.

Temple of HERA - Olympia, ancient rural sanctuary Greece - Olympic Flame - Olympic Games
Temple of Hera was built in 600 BC, the ruins on the site today are the remains after an earthquake during fourth centry A.D. Photo by

It is at the altar of this temple that the ceremony is organized and the Olympic flame is lit by actresses playing the part of priestesses – and carried to all parts of the world (i.e. Olympic games).

External Links – Related & Interesting Facts

Bronze figure of a running girl excavated in Prirzen from the Archiac Greek culture/period.

On Display

Bronze figure of a running girl excavated in Prirzen from the Archiac Greek culture/period.

“The short chiton she wears that expose her right breast is a distinctive characteristic in the Heraean Games.”

More information

Social Movement

The Heraean Games is an important milestone in the history of women & women’s sports

Instituted as the first athletic competition for women and played an important role in weakening the gendered segregation of Greek society.

With unmistakable similarity to social movements of the present day, despite the social inequalities the female athletes of Greece wanted to participate.

Sports and fitness was favored and valued by Spartian women at the time of the Olympic Games (776 BC through 393 AD) but they were prohibited from attending the men’s Olympics on penalty of death.

Pausanias’ Pragmatic Vision

The historic documentation of the Heraean Games, compared to the Olympic Games in honor of Zeus, is not abundant. Piecing together the history, there’s missing information to leave us unsatisfied with the knowledge regarding the founder and unsure of which story of two is accurate.

Barbara Goff, a professor at University of Reading and the author of “Citizen Macchae: Women’s Ritual Practice in Ancient Greece” share within a section of her book that Pausanias of Athens (Greek author, explorer and geographer between 143–176 AD) offers two accounts of the institution’s genesis.

Pausanias provides deep and unique insights into the religious, political, cultural and ethnical identity. As an author and historian, journaling and chronicling in ancient Greece.

Pausanias appears briefly in two Socratic dialogues, Plato’s Protagoras and Xenophon‘s Symposium. He is also mentioned in Book V of Athenaeus‘ Deipnosophistae, and in Book II of Claudius Aelianus‘ Varia Historia.


According to the accounts of Greek travel writer Pausanius, the government of Elis, the city where the games were held, decreed that if a woman was caught present at the Olympic Games she would be “cast down from Mount Typaeum into the river flowing below”.


Pausanias gives us the most detailed insight of ancient Greek myth as a living, local tradition. In the oldest known cultural travel guide.

The two accounts of the institution’s genesis


One theory being that the Heraean games was founded by Queen Hippodamia in gratitude to Hera for her wedding to Pelops and the first games were held to celebrate the wedding.


Diplomatic efforts may have been the idé behind another theory where the games were an effort and symbol of peace to resolve tensions between the cities of Elis and Pisa.

Meanwhile, Roman influence isn’t disregarded. Daughters of wealthy families participated freely in men’s festivals and athletic competitions.

Manuscript of Pausanias' Description of Greece dated 1485, in the collection of the Laurentian Library (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana).
Manuscript of Pausanias’ Description of Greece dated 1485, in the collection of the Laurentian Library (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana).


Which ever original events that encouraged the establishment of the Heraean Games. The existence is highly important in both women’s history and women’s sports history.

The valued manuscript of Pausanias’. His journaling and chronicling of his journeys around ancient Greece offers us insights that are not recoded anywhere else. It is also the worlds oldest know cultural travel guide, which is a quite interesting fact.



What are your thoughts on the Heraean Games? Are you familiar with Pausanias?

Comment below to let us know

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HERAS ink CEO Angelina

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