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The History and Mythology of the Heraea Games and the Sixteen Women

Pausanias relates two differing stories about the origins of the Sixteen Women and the Heraea Games. The first version ties their beginning to the story of Pelops and Hippodameia, claiming that "Out of gratitude for her marriage with Pelops, Hippodameia assembed the Sixteen Women, and with them inaugurated the Heraea Games (Pausanias, 5.16.4). However, the other legend declares that the Sixteen Women were originally created by the Eleans and the Pisans to arbitrate a grievance between the two peoples. "They chose a woman from each of the sixteen cities of Elis still inhabited at the time to settle their differences, this woman to be the oldest, the most noble, and the most esteemed of all the women...The women from these cities made peace between Pisa and Elis" ( Pausanias, 5.16.5).

This tale offers a fascinating perspective on the role of women in ancient Greece. The early Eleans and Pisans entrusted important political negotiations to their female elders; clearly, they respected the ability and intelligence of these women. Sadly, the political and social status of women would undergo a sharp decline in the years to come. In, for example, classical Athens, women were most decidedly relegated to a second-class position in the state. However, women did at least remain a very visible presence in the religion of ancient Greece. The sanctuary at Olympia attests to the continuing influence of women in religious life.

Image Links
| Olympia's Site Plan | Model of Olympia |
| Monument of Elean Women |
| Image of Hippodameia |

Women and Goddesses of Olympia

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