The javelin was a game that was directly connected with their everyday life, derived from war and hunting. The javelin is mentioned by Homer as one of the sports in the games Achilles held to honor his friend Patroclus.


The javelin was a wooden pole, about as long as a man's height, with one end pointed and lighter than that used by warriors. It is uncertain whether the javelin had simply a pointed end, or a metal head like those used by the military; both types are found in vase paintings. A javelin with a pointed head was necessary in target practice so that it could be stuck in the target. When the javelin did not have an attached head, a blunt ferule was placed on the end, so that its center of gravity would be towards the front, giving it an accurate and steady flight.

The main difference between the ancient and modern javelin is that the athletes of ancient Greece attached a thong, a leather strap that formed a loop, at the center of gravity of the javelin. In war and hunting, thongs were also used, but were permanently attached. In the case of athletics, each competitor tied the thong where it helped him the most. When the javelin was thrown, the fingers released the thong.

The thong assisted the throw in two ways:

  • It increased the power of the throw because it made the grip more secure.
  • It gave it a rotating motion about its axis that stabilized the javelin in flight and helped to achieve greater distance.


Rules of the Game:
There were two forms of this event:

  • throwing the javelin for distance, or
  • throwing it at a predetermined target

Throwing for distance (included in the pentathlon)
According to several vase paintings, the javelin was thrown from a fixed point, probably at the starting line of the stadium. The distance from the end of the track to this point left room for the athlete to take a few steps before throwing. The javelin had to fall within an area defined on three sides, and the throw was invalid if it fell outside this area.

The sequence of events was as follows: First the athlete tied the thong as tight as he could, tested it several times, and put his index and middle fingers into the loop of the thong. Before beginning the run-up, he pushed the javelin back with his left hand to tighten the thong and to grip the fingers of his right hand. Then, while holding the javelin close to his head, the athlete turned his body in the direction of the throw and started the run-up. A few steps before the starting-line, he pulled his right arm back and turned his body and head to the right. He crossed his right foot in front of the left and drew his left arm back to help the turn. Then bending his knees slightly, he stretched his left leg out in front of him to stop his movement so he could remain behind the line. The javelin was hurled over his head from this final position. This is the same throwing style used by javelin-throwers today.

Throwing at a target
Throwing the javelin at a target was commonly done on horseback. In this event, as the horse was galloping, the rider had to throw the javelin at a target when the horse reached a certain point or a certain distance from the target. The movement of the horse affected the steadiness of the rider's hand and limited the control he had over his movements. The rider had to be able to achieve complete coordination between the rhythm of the horse's gallop and the movement of his hand, while still keeping his eyes focused on the target.

Characteristics of a Good Thrower
When throwing at a target, the athletes were most likely riding on horses. This event required a steady eye, a strong hand, and the flexibility of an experienced horseman.

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