Did you know that one of the most famous winners of the ancient Olympics was a woman, Kyniska of Sparta, during a time when women were supposedly not only forbidden to take part in the Games but also not allowed to become participants? How did she do it? She found a loophole.
Kyniska, daughter of King Archidamos of Sparta, was the first woman to be listed as an Olympic victor in antiquity. Her chariot won in the four-horse chariot race, not once but twice, in the 96th and 97th Olympiads, (396 B.C. and 392 B.C. respectively). Not only did Kyniska push the envelope by being a woman to participate in the events, she was honored with the same pomp and circumstance as all other Olympians were.
“Exceptforattendance at the awards ceremony for Olympic victors – from which Cynisca was banned because she was a woman – she received the same honors as other Olympic victors. This included a sculpture of herself erected in the Olympic sanctuary. The dedication on the base of the statue read:
My ancestors and brothers were kings of Sparta.
I, Cynisca, victorious with a chariot of swift-footed horses,
Erected this statue. I declare that I am the only woman
In all of Greece to have won this crown.
Cynisca’s win in the Olympics had a great impact on the ancient Greek world as other women, especially Lacedaemonians, later won the chariot racing like Euruleonis, Belistiche, Timareta, Theodota and Cassia. However, none of them was more distinguished for their victories than she was.
This Spartan princess is frequently used until today as a symbolic figure of the social rise of woman. Kynisca is an inspiration to women everywhere. We have always been running. We will always make the finish line! We will be crowned as victors!