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Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World by Donald G. Kyle

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 Sport And Spectacle in the Ancient World

Sport And Spectacle in the Ancient World, by Donald G. Kyle


The Bottom Line

Donald G. Kyle shows that sports are part of social, civil, and religious life. Although we may not know whether sport emerged from ritual or hunting and warfare, or started on its own, sport and the competitive/aggressive spirit has always been with us. If you've ever wondered about the sports analogies of life and the ancient tradition behind and popularity of the Superbowl, World Cup, or Wimbledon, you should read this book.
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  • Kyle ties known facts together to back up interesting new ideas.
  • Persuasive
  • Humorous
  • Just packed with information in a pleasing, easy-to-read format.


  • There are some unanswered questions and minor inaccuracies.
  • While there are lots of references, there could be more.


  • Provides an historical overview of ancient sports history, including definition of concepts.
  • Gives in-depth coverage of the ancient Olympics and other panhellenic games.
  • Uncovers the truth about and possible agenda behind women in sports.
  • Examines the world of Roman gladiators.
  • In the late Republic powerful men competed politically. What is less well known is the sports aspect of that competition.
  • Answers questions of origins, including Greek nudity.

Guide Review - Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World by Donald G. Kyle

A revisionist historian, Donald G. Kyle explains the background of ancient sports history. He then details the history of sport and spectacle in the Mediterranean from the earliest possible evidence of kingly/pharaonic demonstrations of power to the Homeric depiction of Mycenaean Greek funeral games through the well-documented spectacles in circuses and amphitheaters throughout the Roman Empire. He examines common misconceptions of gladiators and beast fights, of Greek sport as more active and noble than the spectator sport of the Romans, and of the Greeks as inventors of sport. He shows that sporting events are a religiously-linked means of identity-creation. He cleverly points out that "popular, physical, and pagan" sporting events are so important to mankind that even those of us who deride sports know a lot about it. Prohibitions don't get rid of "undesirable" sports, but push them under the table and into new forms -- like cock fights.

How active or passive citizen participation is partly depends on whether the culture is urban and crowded or rural and sparse. Kyle blames not Christianity, which caused the end of the ancient Olympics, but the medieval de-urbanization of Europe for the temporary loss of mass sport spectaculars. Now that we have the vast crowds again, the entertainment industry is back in business.

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