WINNER MEDALS of the 1859-1889 OLYMPIC GAMES Written by Stathis Douramakos
Silver, A’ Class 1859 winner medal
Gold, A’ Class 1870 winner medal
Silver, B’ Class 1875 winner medal
Bronze, 1870 winner medal
A few words about the 1859-1889 Olympic (Olympian) Games: In 1830, along with the re-instatement of Greece as free country, Greeks seemed to recollect their ancient history, especially from Classical years, and wanting to honour the ancient Greek phrase “Νοῦς ὑγιὴς ἐν σώµατι ὑγιεῖ” translated as “Healthy mind exists, in a healthy body”, started forming the groundwork to revive the ancient Olympic Games. Some initiatives as follows: - 1833, Poem of Panagiotis Soutsos, (intellectual, poet of the time) “Dialogue of the Dead”, where he clearly proposes the revival of the ancient Olympic Games. - 1834, Panagiotis Soutsos sends a formal proposal to Ioannis Kolettis, minister of internal affairs of Greece, asking the same. - 1835, after P.Soutsos’ proposal, I. Kolettis, by his “Memorandum of the instituting of National celebrations and public games on the model of Antiquity, submits a formal proposal to King Othon. - 1837, Royal Decree signed by Queen Amalia, formally gives shape to what the Games would look like. - 1838, the municipality of Letrina (today’s municipality of Pyrgos, near Olympia) proposed to hold Olympic Games on March 25th honouring Greece’s national celebration. It is said, that Evangelis Zappas was inspired by the work of P.Soutsos, and decided to revive the ancient Olympic Games himself, proposing it to king Othon, and funding them completely himself. This lead to acceptance, and ultimately the revival of the ancient Olympic Games, which were held in Athens from 1859-1889 were a reality. The Olympian Games consisted of two parts, an exhibition held in Zappeion Megaron (Mansion), as well as the athletic Games held in Ludwig sq. (now Omonia sq.) in1859, and in the Games after that, in the Panathenaic stadium where the Olympic Hymn (composed by Orfanidis) and athlete’s oath would be heard. The Olympian Games were accepted with great excitement by national and international press, as well as societies who promoted the benefits of physical education (e.g. Wenlock, a committee of gentlemen in England, initiated in 1850 who held their own local athletic games, the Wenlock Olympian Games) and praised and supported the initiative for revival of Olympian Games, and the start of modern Olympic Games as they mentioned them (The London Review, Sept. 15, 1860).
(1) The initial wooden Zappeion building, where the exhibition part of the Olympian Games were held until 1875.
WINNER MEDALS DESCRIBED IN ROYAL DECREES Royal Decree of 1837, describes what the medals would be and look like:
(2) ________________________________________________________________________________________________________ (2) GOVERNMENT NEWSPAPER OF THE KINGDOM OF GREECE (Royal decree) February 9th, 1837 Among others, this decree makes known that a 12-member committee is formed, in order to promote and encourage the national industry. All the initial steps for organizing an industrial exhibition are also mentioned, an exhibition where awards will be given based on performance in each event. The awards suggested, are financial awards (50-500 drachmas), A’ Class and B’ Class gold medals, A’ Class and B’ Class silver medals, and diplomas to accompany the medals. The medals of all classes will have the royal image on one side (obv.), and inscription on the other (rev.). Gold A’ class medals will be valued 100 drachmas, and Gold B’ class medals 50 drachmas. Silver A’ class medals will be valued 10 drachmas, and silver B’ class medals 5 drachmas. It is also mentioned, that after the industrial exhibition, and for three days, there will be national athletic games such as Horseracing, wrestling, discus throwing, leaping, dances, and more athletic events, which will be accompanied by music and national Anthems. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Royal Decree of 1858, signed by Queen Amalia, announcing the final formation of the Olympian Games
(3) ________________________________________________________________________________________________________ (3) GOVERNMENT NEWSPAPER OF THE KINGDOM OF GREECE (Royal decree) August 28, 1858
This Decree, officially announces the formation of the Olympian Games. Evangelis Zappas’ proposal and his financial contribution to revive the Olympic Games is accepted by the Hellenic (Greek) government. It includes a thorough description of the general structure of the Olympian Games, as well as description of awards. The medals will be distinguished by diameter and thickness in A’ and B’ class medals, and they will come in Gold, Silver and Bronze. Praises will also be given. The medals will have a relief bust of the King, surrounded by the inscription “Othon, A’ King of Greece, founder of Olympian Games”. On reverse, there will be the inscription “ Olympic Wreath, A’ or B’ Class, Consecrator of Games Evangelis Zappas” surrounded by a wreath. The medals will be accompanied by diplomas signed by the minister of internal affairs, and will mention Evangelis Zappas. The number of the medals will be decided by Royal decree after consulting the relevant committee. Signed by Queen Amalia. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Royal Decree about judges and medals, pointing out the importance of Gold medals
________________________________________________________________________________________________________ (4) GOVERNMENT NEWSPAPER OF THE KINGDOM OF GREECE (Royal decree) January 29th, 1859 This Decree announces the program and regulations of the Olympian Games. It clarifies that the judges’ committee will be responsible for deciding about the awards. The appointment of these committees will be made based on the significance of the events and classes. In case of a vote tie, the vote of the president of the committee will stand. The medals to be awarded will be 1)Gold A’ and B’ classes, 2)Silver A’ and B’ classes, 3)Bronze, 4)Praise, by turn of grade by the committee, and significance. It also discriminates Gold medals (article 55) from the rest of the awards (article 56) making a strong point about the significance and the perfection they stand for, in comparison to silver, and bronze medals, as well as praises. *Note: This Decree, also mentions that the Olympian Games are the revival of the ancient Olympic Games, after a pause of many centuries. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE MEDALS The medals in all Olympian Games (except 1888-9 where no medals were awarded) followed this motif. There were Gold A’ and B’ Class medals, Silver A’ and B’ Class medals, Bronze medals, and Praises. These, would be awarded by significance of event and performance, at the judges’ committee discretion. Diplomas would accompany medals. ‘A Class medals were larger in diameter and heavier, while B’ Class medals were smaller than A’ Class in diameter, and lighter. The Bronze medals were of the same diameter as A’ Class medals. Gold and Silver medals came in boxes where the year of each Olympian Game is engraved in Greek lettering, while bronze medals came in plain boxes. It is important to understand that the awards’ procedure was different than this of our days that has a first, a second and a third winner. It could be that an event would have no winner as no-one would be worthy even for a praise, or an event would have two or more silver A’ Class for example winners, but no Gold winner, thus no first winner in today’s terms.
(5) tranl.:“ The awards of the exhibitors of the 6th synagogue together as follows. Even though we had set for those 4 sections, 95 awards and 90 praises to be awarded, only 24 awards and 3 praises were awarded”. -Official Report 1875, page 422-. Gold A’ class and B’ class medals represented absolute excellence, thus, these were given to very few and came in very few numbers. Gold winner medals were even distinguished from the rest of the awards in all documents, specifying their significance. Winners who got Gold medals, would be considered in our days as the first winners, although the grades below that were more. A good example of how difficult it was to be awarded with a Class A’ Gold medal, is King George A’ himself, who participated in the second Olympian Games 1870 (at the time when he was King) for introducing tobacco from the Americas for cultivation to Greece, and was awarded with a Gold B’ Class medal for this contribution (one of the twelve Gold B’ Class medals awarded in total in 1870). (his diploma in picture 6 ).
(6) Diploma which accompanied winners of B' Class Gold winners, awarded to King George A'.
WINNER MEDALS OF THE A’ OLYMPIAN GAMES, 1859 (Rev.I)
(7) Obverse side of the silver A’ Class medal of 1859, King Othon
The medals of 1859 followed the motif described in the Royal Decrees of 1837 and 1858. There were Gold medals in A’ Class and B’ Class, Silver medals in A’ Class and B’ Class, Bronze medals, and praises. A’ Class medals were 45.5 mm in diameter, B’ Class medals were smaller in diameter (unknown exactly), and the Bronze medal was 58mm in diameter. On the obverse side of the medal, there was a relief bust of King Othon, surrounded by the inscription “Othon, A’ King of Greece, founder of Olympian Games”. On reverse, there was the inscription “ Gold or Silver or Bronze Olympic Wreath / First or Second Class (in Bronze medals no Class was mentioned) followed by the inscription in smaller letters, “Consecrator of Games Evangelis Zappas”, surrounded by a olive wreath. (Rev.I note) Although the official report mentions the numbers of the medals that were awarded during these Games (see below table), in fact, no medals were ever awarded. This is the reason why such medals are not found anywhere. It was planned for the medals to be awarded, but they were never actually produced, thus not awarded. What was produced, was the sample medals before the actual production. One of each kind, Gold (fist and second Class), Silver (first and second class) and Bronze (only one, no classes) were ever produced, all using the same white metal sample material.
(8) Official table of number of awarded medals -Official Report 1859, Appendix “List of the awarded participants by class, in the first period of the Olympian Games, 1859”, page 22-.
WINNER MEDALS OF THE B’ OLYMPIAN GAMES, 1870
(9) Gold, A’ Class 1870 Winner medal The medals of 1870 and 1875, were different than those of 1859, as the King had now changed. Thus, Kings’ Othon bust, would now be replaced with Kings’ George A’, and the diameter and inscriptions were now slightly different. Again, there were Gold medals in A’ Class (41mm diam., 60 grams) and B’ Class (37mm diam., 30 grams), Silver medals in A’ Class (41mm diam., 42 grams) and B’ Class (37mm diam., 22 grams), Bronze medals (41mm diam., 30 grams), and praises. Weights can have slight differences from medal to medal. On the obverse side of the medal, there was a relief bust of King George A’, surrounded by the inscription “ George A’, King of Greeks”. On reverse, there was the inscription “ Olympia / in Athens / ΑΩΟ’ (1870) / Class A, or B. (in Bronze medals no Class was mentioned) surrounded by the inscription “Consecrator of Games Evangelis Zappas” , which in turn was surrounded by an olive wreath. The number of medals awarded was as follows: Gold A’ Class medals: Gold B’ Class medals: Silver A’ Class medals: Silver B’ Class medals: Bronze medals: Praises:
12 12 87 133 353 310
(10) Official table of number of awarded medals -Official Report 1870, page 220-.
WINNER MEDALS OF THE C’ OLYMPIAN GAMES, 1875
(11) Silver, B’ Class 1875 Winner Medal The medals of the third Olympian Games of 1875, were the same as those of 1870, only with a different date. Again, there were Gold medals in A’ Class (41mm diam., 60 grams) and B’ Class (37mm diam., 30 grams), Silver medals in A’ Class (41mm diam., 42 grams) and B’ Class (37mm diam., 22 grams), Bronze medals (41mm diam., 33 grams), and praises. Weights can have slight differences from medal to medal. This time, the financial awards were also included in the tables with total numbers of awards. On the obverse side of the medal, there was a relief bust of King George A’, surrounded by the inscription “ George A’, King of Greeks”. On reverse, there was the inscription “ Olympia / in Athens / ΑΩΟE’ (1875) / Class A, or B. (in Bronze medals no Class was mentioned) surrounded by the inscription “Consecrator of Games Evangelis Zappas” , which in turn was surrounded by an olive wreath. The number of medals awarded was as follows: Gold A’ Class medals: Gold B’ Class medals: Silver A’ Class medals: Silver B’ Class medals: Bronze medals: Praises: Financial awards:
10 34 103 205 286 285 6
(12) Official table of number of awarded medals -Official Report 1875, Appendix “Nominal list of the awarded participants of the third period of the Olympian Games, 1875”, page XVIII-.
WINNER MEDALS OF THE D’ OLYMPIAN GAMES, 1888-9 In 1888-9, although the Zappeion Megaron as we know it today was just built and used for the Olympian Games along with the Panathenaic Stadium for the athletic events, Greece had important issues to attend to. The Long Depression, an unstable political and economical environment, Greece between wars and just before bankruptcy (1893) lead to the Olympian Games having less glamour than the previous ones. Although the Games took place as planned, and the diplomas were awarded mentioning as previously all medals and Classes as before, there were no actual medals to be awarded. It was planned for them to be awarded, but they just never came. It was even satirized in press, the fact that even in 1889 when the athletic events took place, the medals were nowhere to be found still.
(13) Newspaper “To Asty” Feb. 28, 1889 – Satirical drawing of cook, cooking the awards, but they are still not ready..
(14) Newspaper Asty, July 23, 1889. – Describes that the judges award winners, without awards. Satirizes the fact, mentioning that even the Pope gives at least a small plaque when Awarding a bishop in partibus, something to remember. Talks about non-existent medals.
There was nevertheless one medal, which was made by the hat maker shop (pilopoiion) Mr. Michalakis Katsimpalis, and which is the only known commemorative medal made for the 1888 Olympian Games. This was a privately cut medal, made in commemoration of the Games, mentioning the name of the hat maker on one side. Description of medal: The medal was bronze, 35.5 mm in diameter, and weighted 11.9 gramms, with a loop. On the obverse size there was a relief image of Zappeion Megaron, with the inscription “D’ / Olympias” on top, and “In / Athens 1888” on bottom. On the reverse side of the medal, there was the inscription “ In commemoration” surrounded by an olive wreath, and on top of that, the inscription “Pilopoiion (hat maker shop)” , and “ M Katsimpali” on bottom.
(15) Commemorative medal made by hat maker M.Katsimpalis, for the commemoration of Olympia 1888.
(16) Newspaper “To Asty” , Nov. 13,1888, - Article writer mentions, that he can see hanging on the chest of one of the employees a medal, that the popular hat maker Michalakis Katsimpalis made, given the chance of the exhibition. He stops by his booth and admires his hat collection suitable for all ages.
• Official Reports of 1859, 1870 and 1875 Royal Decrees published in the Government newspapers of the time 1837-1865. • Newspaper “To Asty” 1888-1889. October 2012 – (Rev.I -2015)
Stathis Douramakos’s “Olympiaka through original Documents”
Published on Nov 4, 2012
This is a research from my "Olympiaka through original documents" column regarding the winner medals of th 1859-1889 Olympic Games (Olympian...