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Reviews of Olympia: Cult, Sport, and Ancient Festival

“Ulrich Sinn is Mr. Olympia.”
— Edward Champlin, Princeton University, author of Final Judgments: Duty and Emotion in Roman Wills and Nero

“Sinn (University of Würzburg) has directed several important excavations at Olympia, and here he ‘tries to sketch [Olympia’s] development into the arguably most famous sanctuary in the Mediterranean.’ Sinn argues that Olympia was not always a place for famous athletic games; and by the time written records appear attesting its fame for athletics, the sanctuary was already 400 years old. In summarizing the extant records on Olympia, then, Sinn is particularly concerned to reveal details about worship at the sanctuary in its earliest times. In thirteen succinct chapters, Sinn summarizes what is known about the origins of Olympia, the struggles for power over it, worship at the oracle, the athletic games, how different philosophers reacted to Olympia’s image, particularly of the athletes, how festivals and games attracted tourists and what they did, and Olympia’s benefactors, such as Alexander the Great, Mummius, and Nero. Although Sinn focuses on primarily Greek Olympia, i.e., until the Romans overtake it, he gives an overview and helpful chronological summary (through the sixth century C.E.) in the last chapter. With glossaries of personalities in Greek and Roman history and mythology, this is probably the most accessible introduction to and overview of Greek Olympia.”
— Karen A. Elliott, Athens, Greece, Religious Studies Review

“This work of a German archaeologist (Univ. of Würzburg) who has been active in excavations at the site of the ancient Olympic Games has relatively little to do with sport activities. The greater part of the book describes the history of various buildings and monuments and the role of the site in Greek religion, society, and politics. Olympia was important in Greek life and respected by all Greeks, as well as by Macedonians and Romans. Its oracle imparted war advice, cult activities at Olympia brought together Greeks widely separated geographically, a Pan-Hellenic arbitration court was established there, Greeks occasionally battled for control of the sanctuary, the site expanded in size and complexity with time, and earthquakes and floods threatened its existence. Information not generally found in other books is presented, for example, assertions that the Olympic Games continued until early in the fifth century C.E. and that academic classes were conducted in the palaestra. The book should appeal to general readers interested in ancient history, but history specialists will be frustrated by its lack of notes and reference citations, and sport historians, by its minor emphasis on sporting events, athletes, and spectators.”
— R. McGehee, Concordia University at Austin, Choice