Cynisca – 1st Woman Olympian

Women were not allowed to participate in the Olympic Games or to watch them; however Cynisca was to become the 1st woman in history to win at the Olympic Games.

She was born around 440BC in Sparta. Her parent’s were King Archidamus II of Sparta and Eupdeia.

Cynisca was wealthy in her own right and she would breed and train horses. She was herself, an excellent equestrian (horse rider), and her ambition and determination was to succeed at the Olympics.

Most women in Ancient Greece lived a very secluded life and rarely left the home. They were not educated or allowed to participate in sports. Women raised in Sparta however had much more freedom and were encouraged to train and become strong athletic women to raise strong healthy children.

Women were forbidden to enter the Olympic Stadium, therefore they were unable to view the combat events and running races. They could however enter the equestrian events including the chariot races, but this was only as an owner and trainer, not a competitor.

This gave Cynisca an opportunity to enter her horses. She would employ men to ride the chariots and race on her behalf.

It is believed that her brother and future King of Sparta Agesilaus II, was the one to encourage her to enter her horses. Her brother believed that by having a woman win at the Olympics, it would discredit the sport. It is not known why he would want to do and he did not succeed in discrediting the sport.

Cynisca was to win the 4 horse chariot race twice, in 396BC and 392BC, although it is not known if she witnessed her victories, though she would be honoured for them.

A bronze statue of a horse and chariot, a charioteer and of Cynisca herself was erected in her honour in the Temple of Zeus in Olympia. The inscription stated that she was the only female to win the wreath in the chariot events at the Olympic Games.

A hero shrine of Cynisca was erected in Sparta at Plane-tree Grove. This is where religious ceremonies were held and normally only Spartan Kings were honoured in this way. She was the 1st woman to receive this honour.

The inscription from Olympia reads:

Kings of Sparta are my father and brothers,
Kynisca victorious with a chariot of swift footed horses have erected this statue.
I declare myself the only woman in all Hellas to have won this crown.
Apelleas, son of Kallikles made it.

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