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:
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
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