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Training, Cheating, Winning, Praising: Athletes and Shows in Papyri from Roman Egypt

In the second and third centuries AD the cities of the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire developed a mania for grand public competitions in athletics, musical performance and chariot-racing. This exuberant tradition, which was explictly based on the original Olympic games and designed to proclaim the cultural Greekness of the competing cities, is best attested to us from documents on papyrus preserved in the detritus of the ancient cities of Oxyrhynchus and Hermopolis.

To mark the London Olympics, a volume of new texts on this theme, ranging from literary works to a contract to throw a wrestling match, was prepared for The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, published by the Egypt Exploration Society with the support of the British Academy and the AHRC. [The relevant volume of papyri texts was published in 2014 by the Egypt Exploration Society as The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Volume LXXIX, edited by W B Henry, P J Parsons et al. (Graeco-Roman Memoirs, 100).]

These lectures presented the most exciting of the new texts in the context of previous discoveries among the papyri.

Celebrations in the sand: victory songs and other texts from Oxyrhynchus
Christopher Carey, Professor of Greek at University College London, is an expert on the victory odes of Pindar

Fame and especially fortune: the dark side of Olympia
William J. Slater, Emeritus Professor of Classics at McMaster University, Canada, is a scholar of Pindar turned auditor of the finances of ancient festivals and competitors

The Oxyrhynchus papyri: because they’re worth it
Margaret Mountford, erstwhile corporate lawyer and adviser on BBC TV’s The Apprentice, has just completed a PhD in papyrology at University College London including the edition of some Byzantine circus programmes.