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You may know that instead of receiving medallions to hang around their necks, winners in certain ancient Panhellenic games, including the Olympics, received victory wreaths (crowns). For this reason, you may see them called crown games (stephanita). From the 5th century on, the palm branch was sometimes added, in addition to the wreath. The laurel was not yet synonymous with victory and successful competitors at the Olympics did not receive laurel wreaths. That's not to say laurel wreaths were completely dissociated from victory, but in only one of the Panhellenic games, did the victor win the laurel.
- "The Isthmian Victory Crown," by Oscar Broneer; American Journal of Archaeology (1962), pp. 259-263.
- "Panhellenic Cults and Panhellenic Poets," by N. J. Richardson; Cambridge Ancient History. Edited by David M. Lewis, John Boardman, J. K. Davies, M. Ostwald
At the Olympics, the victor received a wreath made of wild olive from the tree behind the temple of Zeus.
" 5.7.6 These things then are as I have described them. As for the Olympic games, the most learned antiquaries of Elis say that Cronus was the first king of heaven, and that in his honor a temple was built in Olympia by the men of that age, who were named the Golden Race. When Zeus was born, Rhea entrusted the guardianship of her son to the Dactyls of Ida, who are the same as those called Curetes. They came from Cretan Ida - Heracles, Paeonaeus, Epimedes, Iasius and Idas.
5.7.7 Heracles, being the eldest, matched his brothers, as a game, in a running-race, and crowned the winner with a branch of wild olive, of which they had such a copious supply that they slept on heaps of its leaves while still green. It is said to have been introduced into Greece by Heracles from the land of the Hyperboreans, men living beyond the home of the North Wind."
At the Pythian Games, which started as musical competitions, victors received laurel wreaths, with the laurel coming from the Vale of Tempe. Pausanias writes:
" The reason why a crown of laurel is the prize for a Pythian victory is in my opinion simply and solely because the prevailing tradition has it that Apollo fell in love with the daughter of Ladon."
Like the other non-Olympic crown games, this game took the form in which we read about it early in the sixth century B.C. Game dates go back to 582 B.C. They took place in the third year of the Olympiad, in August.
The victory wreath at the athletics-based Nemean Games was made of celery. Dates for the game start in 572 B.C. They were held every other year, on the 12 of Panemos, roughly July, in honor of Zeus, under the auspices of the hellanodikai.
" Two wreaths of wild celery crowned him, when he appeared at the Isthmian festival; and Nemea does not speak differently."
From Pindar Olympian 13
The Isthmian Games provided either celery or pine wreaths. Recorded games date from 582 B.C. They were held every two years in April/May.
" I sing the Isthmian victory with horses, not unrecognized, which Poseidon granted to Xenocrates, 15 and sent him a garland of Dorian wild celery for his hair, to have himself crowned, thus honoring the man of the fine chariot, the light of the people of Acragas."
From Pindar Isthmian 2
Plutarch discusses the change from celery here, parsley to pine in his Quaestiones Convivales 5.3.1