Ancient Greek Measures and Athletic Records

    Abstract

    A revised estimate of Greek units of linear measurement would appear to emerge from a study of the records of feats accomplished in the long jump by athletes of ancient Greece in the great festival games. M. Evangelos Kalfarentzos, Inspector-General of Physical Education at Athens, in a communication presented at the conference in connexion with the Lingiad Gymnastic Festival (The Times, July 31) arrives at the conclusion that the length of the remarkable jumps attributed to certain famous performers must be computed in terms of a ‘foot’ which was not uniform in all parts of the Greek world. He bases his argument on the evidence of a comparison of the reputed size of the stadium with the measurements of the various stadia as shown in the results of modern excavations. While it is true that the stadium at Olympia measured 600 ‘feet’, it is an error, M. Kalfarentzos maintains, to hold that all stadia were of this length. Thus the stadium at Delphi was 1,000 ‘feet’. The actual length of the Delphi stadium was 177·55 metres which, divided by 1,000, gives a ‘foot’ of 17·76 centimetres. Phaullus, the winner at the Pythian games, as he is named by contemporary writers, is universally accredited with a ‘record’ jump of 55 ‘feet’ and he is said to have been the first to clear the ditch of soft earth of 30 ft. breadth. Calculated on the revised estimate of the Delphic foot, this jump measures 9·77 metres, or almost exactly 32 feet according to British measurement; while the jump of Chionis, winner at the Olympic games in 664 B.C., is computed at 7·05 metres, or 23 ft. 1 in., on the basis of a ‘foot’ of which a nominal 600 went to a stadium length, which has been shown to be 192·25 metres.

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    Ancient Greek Measures and Athletic Records. Nature 144, 360 (1939). https://doi.org/10.1038/144360b0

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