The stadium at Delphi is located north west of the theater, above the sanctuary of Apollo. It is the highest location in Delphi. The stadium was used for running foot races during events like the Pythian games. It is built on a natural slope, with the north side cut into rock and the south side artificially supported by a walled terrace. An inscription on the south terrace dates the stadium to the 5th cen B.C.E. (Partida).
The stadium is built with two long sides for spectators, a square end with a triumphal arch as an entry way, and a curved end. The arch way added in the 2nd cen C.E. along with the Parnassus lime stone seats now present by Herodes Atticus. Prior to the addition of the seats there were most likely no seats at all or wooden seats (Partida). The stadium could hold approximately 7000 spectators. There are twelve rows of seats on the north side, one in the middle with a back rest. The judges probably sat in this first row when watching the Games. The south side of the stadium has only six rows of seats due to the landscape. Spectators could easily move around the stadium using the gangway above the seats or the various stairways dividing the seats and at both ends of the structure. Also, to make spectators more comfortable, a fountain is located at the northwest end with an arch above it. The long sides of the seats unite at the curved end. There is a small podium (1.30 meters) separating these seats from the track (Petsas 53). The entrance way at the east side is constructed of four pillars holing up three arches. The two center pillars have niches to hold statues. Athletes and judges probably entered the stadium through these arches (Petsas 52).
The stadium is 178 meters long, a middle distance between a Roman stade (177.55 meters) and a Pythian stade (178.35 meters) and 25.50 meters wide (Petsas 52). Races ran in the stadium were measured according to the length of the stadium. The stade was a sprint of one length of the stadium, the diaulos was a race of two lengths, the armed diaulos was a race of two lengths while wearing armor, and a long distance race of 7 to 24 stades was called the dolichos (Harris 33). There are oblong slabs of stone at both ends of the stadium used as starting blocks with notches for the runners toes (Petsas 52). The blocks at the starting line at the square end of the track have grooves about 4 inches apart at intervals of 3 feet 6 inches (Harris 29). Between these grooves are square post holes that would have separated the track into 17 lanes with the center lane being slightly wider than the rest (Miller 163). There is debate about whether or not the runners always started at the square end of the track or at the curved end and whether or not they ran around one post, or each their own post in the diaulos.
Harris points out that the starting lane at the curved end of the track at Delphi has toe grooves on only the right side. He argues that only half of the lanes were used for the diaulos and that runners started at the curved end, ran around a single post at the square end, and finished at the curved end where they were more visible to spectators (33-34). Miller argues that the race was ran in individual lanes with each runner rounding their own post citing a purchase in 246 B.C.E. of 36 kampteres (posts) that would have fit all the sockets at the starting blocks at both ends of the track clearly separating all the lanes (163). He also points out that the amount of lime that was purchased to cover the track would not have been sufficient to cover the whole area and instead that it was used to make the lanes (164). Both arguments by Harris and Miller seem equally probable.
A starting gate (husplex) was used to ensure that the runners did not start before they were signaled. The starting gate was first introduced around the middle of the 5th century B.C.E. and evidence for it found at the Stadium at Isthmia is similar to that at Delphi dating to the same time period. Oscar Broneer proposed a style of gate using cords leading from a staring pit to each of the runners lanes to hold a bar up. At the start of the race the person in the starting pit would release the cords and the bar would drop so the runners could take off from their starting blocks (Harris 27-28). If the posts that Miller mentioned were not used to mark the lanes, they may have been used as parts for the starting gate.
Rules about the races were not confined simply to running. An inscription found on the southern wall of the terrace in May of 1896 states that if wine is in the stadium then a libation must be made to the god it was intended for. If one were to take the wine out of the stadium they were to replace it and were fined 5 drachmas, half to go to the informer of the theft and half to go to the public treasury (Darling-Buck 79-80). There may have been other structures at the site of the stadium before it was built. In 1971 Doric architectural debris of a 6th century B.C.E. fountain was found among the Roman ruins (Petsas 53). Also, in front of the inscription on the south wall there may have been a Sanctuary of Eudromus where athletes could make sacrifices before competing (Darling-Buck 80). So although the races were not for a religious purpose the Gods were still respected during events at the stadium.
Jesse Nevins, Coastal Carolina University