From Academic Kids

This article is about the Ancient Greek Gymnopaedia festival and dance. For 19th century art referring to this (e.g. the "gymnopédies" by Erik Satie): see Gymnopédie

Gymnopaedia derives from the ancient Greek γυμνοπαιδία, a festivity in Sparta, where naked youths would perform war dances.

The term appears in texts of Herodotus, and several authors in the Attic and Koiné periods. While for the earliest of these authors the meaning of gymnopaedia appears predominantly as a festival (including several dances, sports, etc,...), in the later periods of antiquity gymnopaedia is referred to as a particular dance.



The word gymnopaedia is composed of γυμνός (gymnos - "naked") and the plural of παιδίον (paidion - "child"). In Greek γυμνοπαιδία is always plural.

Apart from "gymnopaedia", modern transliterations include "Gymnopaidiai" (mostly older translations of Greek texts, maintaining a plural form for the word), "gymnopedia", "gymnopedie" and "gymnopédie" (in French, or when referring to the Erik Satie compositions, see Gymnopédie).

Gymnopaedia in ancient Greece

The gymnopaedia festival

In ancient Sparta, the Gymnopaedia was, since approximately 650 BC, a yearly celebration during which naked youths displayed their athletic and martial skills through the medium of dancing.

The festival, celebrated in the summertime, was dedicated to Apollo (and/or, according to Plutarch, to Athena). Plato praises gymnopaedia-like exercises and performances in The Laws as an excellent medium of education: by dancing strenuously in the summer heat, Spartan youth were trained in both musical grace and warrior grit at the same time.

In ancient Greece, as a general rule, sports were reserved to men, and would be performed naked. Also, men would be the only spectators when such sports were performed publicly. In this sense "gymnos" (naked) is not an exceptional part of a word to indicate sports in those days: gymnastics is derived from the same. See also Gymnasium (ancient Greece).

Public performance of such sports would generally be in a ceremonial setting, i.e. for the occasion of a religious feast. If an element of competition between the performers was present (which was not so for all ceremonially performed sports), that could as well mean a competition regarding the beauty of the movements, as a competition, for some sports, in the sense of being the fastest or the strongest. This means that many of the sport categories of those days had rather the aspect of a dance, than of a modern understanding of field and track athletics.

All this applies, e.g., for the ancient Olympic games too.

Roman era

Some 8 centuries after the first gymnopaedia had been presented, it still survived in Lacedaemonia. According to Lucian of Samosata (in his dialogue Of Pantomime) there still seems some connection to martial arts, as the youths would engage in gymnopaidia immediately after their daily military training. On the other hand, he describes the gymnopaedia as "yet another dance", neither involving nudity, nor exclusivity for men.

See also

  • Korybantes - mythological performers of war-dances in Greek Antiquity.
  • Pyrrhic dance - a war dance spread throughout Ancient Greece.
  • Gymnopédie - 19th century music an poetry referring to gymnopaedia.


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