It is difficult to trace athletic development through those far away times.
We can only he sure that men possessed great physical strength and endu-
rance, but we have no records of any athletic ideals sought for or attained.
We find stress laid upon the capacity to fight and to build. The rulers, it is
true, enjoyed out of door sports, but this usually took the form of hunting
wild beasts which were killed by the king while slaves and soldiers looked
In almost all these mural decorations the king or ruler is the dominat-
ing personage. As emblem of his spiritual power, often some winged figure
soars protectingly above his head. To illustrate his strength and courage,
he is sometimes represented in single combat with a ferocious lion.
While rage and strength are seen in the lion s every feature and muscle, the
king stands serenely with one outstretched arm grasping by the throat the
king of the beasts, while with the other he thrusts a long dagger through its
body. His slaves or assistants, burdened with shield and arrows, look
calmly on or lead his favourite horse, and the artist seems not only to have
intended to illustrate the fearless courage and superiority of the ruler over
the animal, but also to glorify and exalt him among his followers and slaves.
Thus we find physical strength, courage and endurance embodied in the
rulers of men; whereas the labourers were mere instruments for building and
It may not be out of place here to draw attention to the wonderful
ability shown by Assyrian sculptors in the representation of animals as well as
of humanity. Great stress is laid upon the most prominent muscles, and the
most marked features expressing brute force are carefully observed. Anger,
excitement, suffering or despair are emphasised. All the lines are fine and
decorative. The dying spirit and ferocious energy of beasts are foreiblv
shown by conventionalised, svmmetrical forms, clearly cut and full of
meaning. Animal life, doubtless very abundant in those davs, was better
portrayed than the human form. Though the study of the human bodv was
never conspicuous in Assyria, yet the representation of animated animal life
has never been surpassed and the Assyrians' sculptural accomplishments in
this line stand alone, even to-day, unrivalled in realism, beauty of line, sym-
bolism and decorative qualities.
Following the history of physical culture engraven upon stone, marble
or cast into bronze, we are led from Assyria's high achievements to those of
Egypt. The human body was to gain a more appealing recognition in the
higher order of Egyptian works; but we also note that it was represented
in sculpture only under rigorous religious rules that governed its exposure.
Conditions of social life, aims and ambitions differed little in Assyria and Egypt.
Man was still soldier and slave to his ruler. The dutv imposed upon him was to
build and to go to war. Greater and more solemn monuments of symbolic
sculpture however, were created; more fantastic and gorgeous architecture