Ancient Funeral Games

by MSO

The chariot race at Patroclus' funeral games, was one lap around the stump of a tree. It was won by Diomedes, who received a slave woman and a cauldron as his prize.

Games were part of ancient funeral customs in Greece and Rome. The games were held to honor deceased members of prominent families at the time. Achilles, for example, was given the task to organize and oversee a length of competitive games to properly honor Patroclus, his friend, at his funeral.

The games included a chariot race, wrestling, boxing matches, running races, discus, archery, spear throwing and a bloody duel between two champions. The chariot race at Patroclus’ funeral was the first instance that chariot racing was referenced in literature, reported in Homer’s Iliyad.

While the Greek games seemed festive and joyful, the Roman funeral games were dark and dangerous. Slaves were sacrificed and pitted against each other in bloody matches – the Romans were convinced that the souls of the recently deceased would only be laid to a peaceful rest with human blood as a gift. These slaves and prisoners were considered to be poor quality and used only for this purpose.

These games eventually grew into the Gladiator games that would last days – the more money and prominence you had, the more matches would be held to honor your death.

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