Penn prof is having
a field day in Athens
ATHENS - Even in a crowd of Greeks,
David Romano is holding his own these days.
The unassuming archaeologist and University of Pennsylvania
professor - long an expert on the ancient Olympics - has been here
for the last two months, first on a dig and now on a journalistic
mission of sorts, traveling around Greece and writing about the
country as it hosts the 2004 Games.
Every other day for the duration of the Games, he will be posting
his experiences and impressions on a Penn-supported Web journal,
accessible through the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Web
No matter that August was supposed to be his vacation. Romano
says he jumped at the opportunity to write about the country where
he studied archaeology in the 1970s, and where he has spent
countless days since, teaching and exploring ancient sites.
"My blood is in this in a number of different ways -
archaeologically, and in terms of athletics and competition," Romano
said in an interview earlier this week. "I'm an archaeologist. I'm
also a runner, and I used to be a competitive runner for many years.
So this is a combination of all the things I love."
So far, Romano, 57, has touched on topics ranging from the Athens
Metro system to the most recent doping scandal, which could end up
implicating two of Greece's top runners.
His impression of the Metro? "It's great," Romano said. "Many of
the stations have archaeological exhibits - little museums right
there in the subway. And they'll probably be seen by more people
than if they were in the National Museum."
His thoughts on the doping scandal? "Unfortunate," Romano said of
the rumors involving the two athletes, Katerina Thanou and Kostas
In a bizarre tale that could rival the best of Greek dramas, the
runners failed to show up for a scheduled International Olympic
Committee (IOC) drug test Thursday. Later that day, they were hurt
in a motorcycle accident while rushing back to the Olympic Village
upon learning that they could be disqualified from the
The two have been released from the hospital and are scheduled to
go before the IOC today to answer questions about the circumstances
surrounding their failure to appear for testing.
"The television headline was, 'Greece is frozen, waiting for
news,' " Romano said. "And it's true. It's all anybody is talking
What people may not know, however, is that there was no drug
testing in antiquity, and that there exists no evidence to date that
athletes in the ancient games ever took performance-enhancing
substances. So Romano writes in his Web journal entry of Aug.
In the same entry, he reports that Olympic victors in ancient
times routinely received cash payments from their hometowns, and
that at least by the fifth century B.C. they were also rewarded with
free meals every day for the rest of their lives.
The spoils of victory didn't end there. Winners got front-row
seating at the theater, "and could also erect an image of
themselves, usually in the form of a statue, in the sacred 'altis'
in Olympia," writes Romano, who has a separate Web site (http://www.museum.upenn.edu/new/olympics/olympicintro.shtml)
dedicated to the story of the ancient Games.
A professor in college first inspired him to study ancient Greece
and its athletes, Romano said, and it was his study of ancient
athletes that eventually drew him to archaeology.
He has been in Greece on digs 23 times in the last 25 years. This
summer, he's been leading a group of archaeologists from the
University of Arizona and the Fifth Ephorate of Prehistoric and
Classical Antiquities in Sparta on a mission in Arcadia, about 130
miles southwest of Athens.
Those institutions, and Penn, are collaborating on a five-year
excavation and survey project at the Sanctuary of Zeus on Mount
Lykaion. The site is identified in Greek mythology as the birthplace
of Zeus, and includes a stadium and hippodrome where athletic
contests were held.
The project, said Romano, will keep him coming back here for the
next six summers.
In the meantime, the professor from Merion Station, Montgomery
County, is going to try to squeeze in some fun with his work. He's
been catching a few Olympic events while here with his wife and
three daughters and their two friends.
"This is where the Games began," Romano said. "It's an
extraordinary time to be here."