The Republic of Panama (República de Panamá in Spanish), is a country usually considered to be entirely in North America or Central America. It is bordered by Costa Rica to the west, Colombia (in South America) to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The capital and largest city is Panama City, whose metropolitan area is home to nearly half of the country’s 4.1 million people. It has a total area of 28,640 square miles (74,177 km²).
The dominant feature of Panama’s geography is the central spine of mountains and hills that forms the continental divide. The divide does not form part of the great mountain chains of North America, and only near the Colombian border are there highlands related to the Andean system of South America. The spine that forms the divide is the highly eroded arch of an uplift from the sea bottom, in which peaks were formed by volcanic intrusions. The highest point in the country is the Volcán Barú, which rises to 11,401 feet (3,475 meters).
A nearly impenetrable jungle forms the Darién Gap between Panama and Colombia where Colombian guerrilla and drug dealers are operating with hostage-taking. This and forest protection movements create a break in the Pan-American Highway, which otherwise forms a complete road from Alaska to Patagonia. Covering around 40 percent of its land area, Panama’s jungles are home to an abundance of tropical plants and animals — some of them to be found nowhere else on the planet. Panama’s wildlife holds the most diversity of all the countries in Central America. It is home to many South American species as well as North American wildlife.
Panama was inhabited by several indigenous tribes prior to settlement by the Spanish in the sixteenth century. Panama broke away from Spain in 1821 and joined a union of Nueva Granada, Ecuador, and Venezuela named the Republic of Gran Colombia. When Gran Colombia dissolved in 1831, Panama and Nueva Granada remained joined, eventually becoming the Republic of Colombia. With the backing of the United States, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903, allowing the Panama Canal to be built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914. In 1977, an agreement was signed for the total transfer of the Canal from the United States to Panama by the end of the twenieth century, which culminated on December 31, 1999.
Revenue from canal tolls continues to represent a significant portion of Panama’s GDP, although commerce, banking, and tourism are major and growing sectors. In 2015, Panama ranked 60th in the world in terms of the Human Development Index. Since 2010, Panama remains the second most competitive economy in Latin America, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index.
There are several theories about the origin of the name Panama. Some believe that the country was named after a commonly found species of tree (Sterculia apetala, the Panama tree). Others believe that the first settlers arrived in Panama in August, when butterflies abound, and that the name means “many butterflies” in an indigenous language. The best-known version is that a fishing village and its nearby beach bore the name “Panamá“, which meant “an abundance of fish”. Captain Antonio Tello de Guzmán, while exploring the Pacific side in 1515, stopped in the small indigenous fishing town. In 1517, Don Gaspar De Espinosa, a Spanish lieutenant, decided to settle a post there. In 1519, Pedrarias Dávila decided to establish the Empire’s Pacific city in this site. The new settlement replaced Santa María La Antigua del Darién, which had lost its function within the Crown’s global plan after the beginning of the Spanish exploitation of the riches in the Pacific.
Blending all of the above together, Panamanians believe in general that the word Panama means “abundance of fish, trees and butterflies”. This is the official definition given in social studies textbooks approved by the Ministry of Education in Panama. However, others believe the word Panama comes from the Kuna word “bannaba” which means “distant” or “far away”.
The Isthmus of Panama was formed about three million years ago when the land bridge between North and South America finally became complete, and plants and animals gradually crossed it in both directions. The existence of the isthmus affected the dispersal of people, agriculture and technology throughout the American continent from the appearance of the first hunters and collectors to the era of villages and cities.
The earliest discovered artifacts of indigenous peoples in Panama include Paleo-Indian projectile points. Later central Panama was home to some of the first pottery-making in the Americas, for example the cultures at Monagrillo, which date back to 2500–1700 BC. These evolved into significant populations best known through their spectacular burials (dating to c. 500–900 AD) at the Monagrillo archaeological site, and their beautiful Gran Coclé style polychrome pottery. The monumental monolithic sculptures at the Barriles (Chiriqui) site are also important traces of these ancient isthmian cultures.
Before Europeans arrived Panama was widely settled by Chibchan, Chocoan, and Cueva peoples. The largest group were the Cueva (whose specific language affiliation is poorly documented). The size of the indigenous population of the isthmus at the time of European colonization is uncertain. Estimates range as high as two million people, but more recent studies place that number closer to 200,000. Archaeological finds and testimonials by early European explorers describe diverse native isthmian groups exhibiting cultural variety and suggesting people developed by regular regional routes of commerce.
When Panama was colonized, the indigenous peoples fled into the forest and nearby islands. Scholars believe that infectious disease was the primary cause of the population decline of American natives. The indigenous peoples had no acquired immunity to diseases which had been chronic in Eurasian populations for centuries.
Rodrigo de Bastidas sailed westward from Venezuela in 1501 in search of gold, and became the first European to explore the isthmus of Panama. A year later, Christopher Columbus visited the isthmus, and established a short-lived settlement in the Darien. Vasco Núñez de Balboa’s tortuous trek from the Atlantic to the Pacific in 1513 demonstrated that the isthmus was, indeed, the path between the seas, and Panama quickly became the crossroads and marketplace of Spain’s empire in the New World. Gold and silver were brought by ship from South America, hauled across the isthmus, and loaded aboard ships for Spain. The route became known as the Camino Real, or Royal Road, although it was more commonly known as Camino de Cruces (Road of Crosses) because of the number of gravesites along the way.
Panama was under Spanish rule for almost 300 years (1538–1821), and became part of the Viceroyalty of Peru, along with all other Spanish possessions in South America. From the outset, Panamanian identity was based on a sense of “geographic destiny”, and Panamanian fortunes fluctuated with the geopolitical importance of the isthmus. The colonial experience also spawned Panamanian nationalism as well as a racially complex and highly stratified society, the source of internal conflicts that ran counter to the unifying force of nationalism.
In 1538, the Real Audiencia de Panama was established, initially with jurisdiction from Nicaragua to Cape Horn before the conquest of Peru. A Real Audiencia (royal audiencia) was a judicial district that functioned as an appeals court. Each audiencia had an oidor (hearer, a judge).
Spanish authorities had little control over much of the territory of Panama. Large sections managed to resist conquest and missionization until very late in the colonial era. Because of this, indigenous people of the area were often referred to as “indios de guerra” (war Indians) and resisted Spanish attempts to conquer them or missionize them. However, Panama was enormously important to Spain strategically because it was the easiest way to transship silver mined in Peru to Europe. Silver cargoes were landed at Panama and then taken overland to Portobello or Nombre de Dios on the Caribbean side of the isthmus for further shipment.
Because of the incomplete Spanish control, the Panama route was vulnerable to attack from pirates (mostly Dutch and English), and from ‘new world’ Africans called cimarrons who had freed themselves from enslavement and lived in communes or palenques around the Camino Real in Panama’s Interior, and on some of the islands off Panama’s Pacific coast. One such famous community amounted to a small kingdom under Bayano, which emerged in the 1552 to 1558. Sir Francis Drake’s famous raids on Panama in 1572–73 and John Oxenham’s crossing to the Pacific Ocean were aided by Panama cimarrons, and Spanish authorities were only able to bring them under control by making an alliance with them that guaranteed their freedom in exchange for military support in 1582.
The prosperity enjoyed during the first two centuries (1540–1740) while contributing to colonial growth; the placing of extensive regional judicial authority (Real Audiencia) as part of its jurisdiction; and the pivotal role it played at the height of the Spanish Empire — the first modern global empire — helped define a distinctive sense of autonomy and of regional or national identity within Panama well before the rest of the colonies.
The end of the encomienda system in Azuero, however, sparked the conquest of Veraguas in that same year. Under the leadership of Francisco Vázquez, the region of Veraguas passed into Castilian rule in 1558. In the newly conquered region, the old system of encomienda was imposed. On the other hand, the Panamanian movement for independence can be indirectly attributed to the abolition of the encomienda system in the Azuero Peninsula, set forth by the Spanish Crown, in 1558 because of repeated protests by locals against the mistreatment of the native population. In its stead, a system of medium and smaller-sized landownership was promoted, thus taking away the power from the large landowners and into the hands of medium and small-sized proprietors.
Panama was the site of the ill-fated Darien scheme, which set up a Scottish colony in the region in 1698. This failed for a number of reasons, and the ensuing debt contributed to the union of England and Scotland in 1707.
In 1671, the privateer Henry Morgan, licensed by the English government, sacked and burned the city of Panama — the second most important city in the Spanish New World at the time. In 1717 the viceroyalty of New Granada (northern South America) was created in response to other Europeans trying to take Spanish territory in the Caribbean region. The Isthmus of Panama was placed under its jurisdiction. However, the remoteness of New Granada’s capital, Santa Fe de Bogotá (the modern capital of Colombia) proved a greater obstacle than the Spanish crown anticipated as the authority of New Granada was contested by the seniority, closer proximity, and previous ties to the viceroyalty of Lima and even by Panama’s own initiative. This uneasy relationship between Panama and Bogotá would persist for centuries.
In 1744, Bishop Francisco Javier de Luna Victoria DeCastro established the College of San Ignacio de Loyola and on June 3, 1749, founded La Real y Pontificia Universidad de San Javier. By this time, however, Panama’s importance and influence had become insignificant as Spain’s power dwindled in Europe and advances in navigation technique increasingly permitted to round Cape Horn in order to reach the Pacific. While the Panama route was short it was also labor-intensive and expensive because of the loading and unloading and laden-down trek required to get from the one coast to the other.
During the last half of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century, migrations to the countryside decreased Panama City’s population and the isthmus’ economy shifted from the tertiary to the primary sector.
As the Spanish American wars of independence were heating up all across Latin America, Panama City was preparing for independence; however, their plans were accelerated by the unilateral Grito de La Villa de Los Santos (Cry From the Town of Saints), issued on November 10, 1821, by the residents of Azuero without backing from Panama City to declare their separation from the Spanish Empire. In both Veraguas and the capital this act was met with disdain, although on differing levels. To Veraguas, it was the ultimate act of treason, while to the capital, it was seen as inefficient and irregular, and furthermore forced them to accelerate their plans.
Nevertheless, the Grito was an event that shook the isthmus to its very core. It was a sign, on the part of the residents of Azuero, of their antagonism toward the independence movement in the capital. Those in the capital region in turn regarded the Azueran movement with contempt, since the separatists in Panama City believed that their counterparts in Azuero were fighting not only for independence from Spain, but also for their right to self-rule apart from Panama City once the Spaniards were gone.
It was an incredibly brave move on the part of Azuero, which lived in fear of Colonel José Pedro Antonio de Fábrega y de las Cuevas (1774–1841), and with good reason. The Colonel was a staunch loyalist and had all of the isthmus’ military supplies in his hands. They feared quick retaliation and swift retribution against the separatists.
What they had counted on, however, was the influence of the separatists in the capital. Ever since October 1821, when the former Governor General, Juan de la Cruz Murgeón, left the isthmus on a campaign in Quito and left the Veraguan colonel in charge, the separatists had been slowly converting Fábrega to the separatist side. So, by November 10, Fábrega was now a supporter of the independence movement. Soon after the separatist declaration of Los Santos, Fábrega convened every organization in the capital with separatist interests and formally declared the city’s support for independence. No military repercussions occurred because of the skillful bribing of royalist troops.
In the first 80 years following independence from Spain, Panama was a department of Colombia, after voluntarily joining it at the end of 1821. The people of the isthmus made several attempts to secede and came close to success in 1831, and again during the Thousand Days’ War of 1899–1902. The Thousand Days’ War is understood among indigenous Panamanians as a struggle for land rights under the leadership of Victoriano Lorenzo. When the Senate of Colombia rejected the Hay–Herrán Treaty, the United States decided to support the Panamanian independence movement.
On November 3, 1903, Panama proclaimed its independence and concluded the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty with the United States. The treaty granted rights to the United States “as if it were sovereign” in a zone roughly 10 miles (16 km) wide and 50 miles (80 km) long. In that zone, the U.S. would build a canal, then administer, fortify, and defend it “in perpetuity”. In 1914, the United States completed the existing 52-mile (83-kilometer)-long Panama Canal. The early 1960s saw the beginning of sustained pressure in Panama for the renegotiation of this treaty.
The U.S. intention to influence the area, especially the Panama Canal’s construction and control, led to the separation of Panama from Colombia in 1903 and its establishment as a nation. The United States intensively encouraged the Panamanian separatist movement. From 1903 to 1968, Panama was a constitutional democracy dominated by a commercially oriented oligarchy. During the 1950s, the Panamanian military began to challenge the oligarchy’s political hegemony.
Amid negotiations for the Robles–Johnson treaty, Panama held elections in 1968. Arias Madrid was declared the winner of elections that were marked by violence and accusations of fraud against Alianza del Pueblo. On October 1, 1968, Arias Madrid took office as president of Panama, promising to lead a government of “national union” that would end the reigning corruption and pave the way for a new Panama. A week and a half later, on October 11, 1968, the National Guard (Guardia Nacional) ousted Arias and initiated the downward spiral that would culminate with the United States’ invasion in 1989. Arias, who had promised to respect the hierarchy of the National Guard, broke the pact and started a large restructuring of the Guard. To preserve the Guard’s interests, Lieutenant Colonel Omar Torrijos Herrera and Major Boris Martínez commanded the first military coup against a civilian government in Panamanian republican history.
The military justified itself by declaring that Arias Madrid was trying to install a dictatorship, and promised a return to constitutional rule. In the meantime, the Guard began a series of populist measures that would gain support for the coup. Parallel to this, the military began a policy of repression against the opposition, who were labeled communists. The military appointed a Provisional Government Junta that was to arrange new elections. However, the National Guard would prove to be very reluctant to abandon power and soon began calling itself El Gobierno Revolucionario (“The Revolutionary Government”).
During Omar Torrijos’s control, the military regime transformed the political and economic structure of the country by initiating massive coverage of social security services and expanding public education. The constitution was changed in 1972. For the reform to the constitution, the military created a new organization, the Assembly of Corregimiento Representatives, which replaced the National Assembly. The new assembly, also known as the Poder Popular (“Power of the People”), was composed of 505 members selected by the military with no participation from political parties, which the military had eliminated.
The new constitution proclaimed Omar Torrijos the “Maximum Leader of the Panamanian Revolution”, and conceded him unlimited power for six years, although, to keep a façade of constitutionality, Demetrio B. Lakas was appointed president for the same period.
In 1981 Torrijos died in a plane crash. Torrijos’ death altered the tone of Panama’s political evolution. Despite the 1983 constitutional amendments, which proscribed a political role for the military, the Panama Defense Forces (PDF), as they were then known, continued to dominate Panamanian political life. By this time, General Manuel Noriega was firmly in control of both the PDF and the civilian government.
In 1984, Nicolás Ardito Barletta Vallarino, supported by the military in a union called UNADE, was declared the winner of elections that had been clearly won by Madrid. Ardito Barletta inherited a country in economic ruin and hugely indebted to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Amid the economic crisis and Barletta’s efforts to calm the country’s creditors, street protests arose, and so did military repression.
Meanwhile, Noriega’s regime had fostered a well-hidden criminal economy that operated as a parallel source of income for the military and their allies, providing revenues from drugs and money laundering. Toward the end of the military dictatorship, a new wave of Chinese migrants arrived on the isthmus in the hope of migrating to the United States. The smuggling of Chinese became an enormous business, with revenues of up to 200 million dollars for Noriega’s regime.
The military dictatorship, at that time supported by the United States, perpetrated the assassination and torture of more than one hundred Panamanians and forced at least a hundred more dissidents into exile. Noriega also began playing a double role in Central America under the supervision of the CIA. While the Contadora group conducted diplomatic efforts to achieve peace in the region, Noriega supplied Nicaraguan Contras and other guerrillas in the region with weapons and ammunition.
On June 6, 1987, the recently retired Colonel Roberto Díaz Herrera, resentful that Noriega’s broke the agreed “Torrijos Plan” of succession that would have made him the chief of the military after Noriega, decided to denounce the regime. He revealed details of the electoral fraud, accused Noriega of planning Torrijos’s death and declared that Torrijos had received 12 million dollars from the Shah of Iran for giving the exiled Iranian leader asylum. He also accused Noriega of the assassination by decapitation of then opposition leader Dr. Hugo Spadafora.
On the night of June 9, 1987, the Cruzada Civilista (“Civic Crusade”) was created and began organizing actions of civil disobedience. The Crusade called for a general strike. In response, the military suspended constitutional rights and declared a state of emergency in the country. On July 10, the Civic Crusade called for a massive demonstration that was violently repressed by the “Dobermans”, the military’s special riot control unit. That day, later known as El Viernes Negro (“Black Friday”), left six hundred people injured and another six hundred detained, many of whom were later tortured and raped.
United States President Ronald Reagan began a series of sanctions against the military regime. The United States froze economic and military assistance to Panama in the middle of 1987 in response to the domestic political crisis in Panama and an attack on the U.S. Embassy. Yet these sanctions did little to overthrow Noriega but instead severely damaged Panama’s economy. The sanctions hit the Panamanian population hard and caused the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to decline almost 25% between 1987 and 1989.
On February 5, 1988, General Manuel Antonio Noriega was accused of drug trafficking by federal juries in Tampa and Miami.
In April 1988, the U.S. President Ronald Reagan invoked the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, freezing Panamanian government assets in all U.S. organizations. In May 1989, Panamanians voted overwhelmingly for the anti-Noriega candidates. The Noriega regime promptly annulled the election and embarked on a new round of repression.
The United States government said Operation Just Cause, which commenced on December 20, 1989, was “necessary to safeguard the lives of U.S. citizens in Panama, defend democracy and human rights, combat drug trafficking, and secure the neutrality of the Panama Canal as required by the Torrijos–Carter Treaties”. Human Rights Watch wrote in the 1989 report: “Washington turned a blind eye to abuses in Panama for many years until concern over drug trafficking prompted indictments of the general [Noriega] by two grand juries in Florida in February 1988”.
The U.S. reported 23 servicemen killed and 324 wounded, with Panamanian casualties estimated around 450. Described as a surgical maneuver, the action led to civilian deaths whose estimated numbers range from 400 to 4,000 during the two weeks of armed activities. This surgical maneuver represented the largest United States military operation to that date since the end of the Vietnam War. The United Nations put the Panamanian civilian death toll at 500, while other sources had higher statistics. The number of U.S. civilians (and their dependents), who had worked for the Panama Canal Commission and the U.S. military, and were killed by the Panamanian Defense Forces, has never been fully disclosed.
On December 29, the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution calling the intervention in Panama a “flagrant violation of international law and of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the States”. A similar resolution was vetoed in the Security Council by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.
The urban population, with many living below the poverty level, was greatly affected by the 1989 intervention. As pointed out in 1995 by a UN Technical Assistance Mission to Panama, the bombardments during the invasion caused the displacement of 20,000 people. The most heavily affected district was impoverished El Chorrillo, where several blocks of apartments were completely destroyed. El Chorrillo had been built in days of Canal construction, a series of wooden barracks which easily caught fire under the United States attack. The economic damage caused by the intervention has been estimated to be between 1.5 and 2 billion dollars. Most Panamanians supported the intervention.
Panama’s Electoral Tribunal moved quickly to restore the civilian constitutional government, reinstated the results of the May 1989 election on December 27, 1989, and confirmed the victory of President Guillermo Endara and Vice Presidents Guillermo Ford and Ricardo Arias Calderon.
During its five-year term, the often-fractious government struggled to meet the public’s high expectations. Its new police force was a major improvement over its predecessor but was not fully able to deter crime. Ernesto Pérez Balladares was sworn in as President on September 1, 1994, after an internationally monitored election campaign.
Perez Balladares ran as the candidate for a three-party coalition dominated by the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), the erstwhile political arm of military dictatorships. Perez Balladares worked skillfully during the campaign to rehabilitate the PRD’s image, emphasizing the party’s populist Torrijos roots rather than its association with Noriega. He won the election with only 33% of the vote when the major non-PRD forces splintered into competing factions. His administration carried out economic reforms and often worked closely with the U.S. on implementation of the Canal treaties.
On September 1, 1999, Mireya Moscoso, the widow of former President Arnulfo Arias Madrid, took office after defeating PRD candidate Martin Torrijos, son of Omar Torrijos, in a free and fair election. During her administration, Moscoso attempted to strengthen social programs, especially for child and youth development, protection, and general welfare. Moscoso’s administration successfully handled the Panama Canal transfer and was effective in the administration of the Canal.
The PRD’s Martin Torrijos won the presidency and a legislative majority in the National Assembly in 2004. Torrijos ran his campaign on a platform of, among other pledges, a “zero tolerance” for corruption, a problem endemic to the Moscoso and Perez Balladares administrations. After taking office, Torrijos passed a number of laws which made the government more transparent. He formed a National Anti-Corruption Council whose members represented the highest levels of government and civil society, labor organizations, and religious leadership. In addition, many of his closest Cabinet ministers were non-political technocrats known for their support for the Torrijos government’s anti-corruption aims. Despite the Torrijos administration’s public stance on corruption, many high-profile cases[clarification needed], particularly involving political or business elites, were never acted upon.
Conservative supermarket magnate Ricardo Martinelli was elected to succeed Martin Torrijos with a landslide victory in the May 2009 presidential election. Mr. Martinelli’s business credentials drew voters worried by slowing growth due to the world financial crisis. Standing for the four-party opposition Alliance for Change, Mr. Martinelli gained 60% of the vote, against 37% for the candidate of the governing left-wing Democratic Revolutionary Party.
On May 4, 2014, Juan Carlos Varela won the 2014 presidential election with over 39% of the votes, against the party of his former political partner Ricardo Martinelli, Cambio Democrático, and their candidate José Domingo Arias. He was sworn in on July 1, 2014.
During its time as a department of Colombia, Panama used overprints of Colombian stamps from 1878 until it gained independence in 1903. However, from 1903 -1905 sets of stamps with overprints were still used and it was only in 1906 that the first printed stamps by the Panamanian postal administration were inscribed REPUBLICA DE PANAMA.
In 1904, Panama was one of the few countries to issue a stamp for the Avis de réception (Acknowledgement of Receit) service. A number of telegraph stamps were issued between 1917 and 1935, most of which were postage or revenue stamps overprinted for telegraphic use. Colombia also issued telegraph stamps for use in Panama before independence but they are not known in used form.
The Panama Canal Zone issued its first postage stamps on June 24, 1904. Initially they were the current stamps of Panama or (less often) the U.S., overprinted with CANAL ZONE in various ways. The last of these overprints were issued in 1939. The final years of the Canal Zone saw few stamps issued; those that were issued were mainly for new first-class postal rates (the first-class rates paralleled those of the United States) The last stamp (fifteen cents) of the Zone was issued on October 25, 1978, and depicted one of the towing locomotives and a ship in a lock. Thereafter Panama took over the administration of postal service and, after a brief transition period, Canal Zone stamps became invalid.
There was a time, from shortly before the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid until not long after the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, that I avidly collected Olympics stamps and even created my own first day cover cachets. I vividly remember preparing covers for the torch relays and other pictorial postmarks from a number of tiny towns in upstate New York. I also had a nice collection of Olympic memorabilia at the time and even corresponded with a figure skating gold medalist for a short while.
The Olympics is the subject portrayed on today’s stamp, however, only because it happens to be the sole item currently in my collection from Panama. I don’t even have any Canal Zone stamps (although I did have a few in the album I’d inherited from my mom that started me on this lifelong hobby at around the age of ten). Scott #C236 was released on September 22, 1960, one of a number of stamps issued by Panama to mark the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy. The 25-centavo light blue and dark blue air mail stamp depicts a javelin thrower. It’s perforated 12½.
The 1960 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XVII Olympiad (Giochi della XVII Olimpiade in Italian), was held from August 25 to September 11, 1960, in Rome which had been awarded the organization of the 1908 Summer Olympics, but after the 1906 eruption of Mount Vesuvius, was forced to decline and pass the honors to London. The city beat out Lausanne, Detroit, Budapest (being the first city of the Eastern Bloc to bid for the Olympic Games), Brussels, Mexico City and Tokyo for the rights to host the 1960 Games. Tokyo and Mexico City would eventually host the following 1964 and 1968 Summer Olympics.
A total of 83 nations participated at the Rome Games. Athletes from Morocco, San Marino, Sudan, and Tunisia competed at the Olympic Games for the first time. Suriname also made its first Olympic appearance, but its lone athlete (Wim Esajas) withdrew from competition due to a scheduling error. Athletes from Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago would represent the new (British) West Indies Federation, competing as “Antilles”, but this nation would only exist for this single Olympiad. Athletes from Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia competed under the Rhodesia name while representing the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Athletes from East Germany and West Germany would compete as the United Team of Germany from 1956 to 1964.
The 1960 Summer Olympic programme featured 150 events in 17 sports.
The javelin is almost always thrown by hand, unlike the bow and arrow and slingshot, which shoot projectiles from a mechanism. However, hurling devices do exist to assist the javelin thrower in achieving greater distance. The Roman javelin is called a pilum. The word javelin comes from Middle English and it derives from Old French javelin, a diminutive of javelot, which meant spear. The word javelot probably originated from one of the Celtic languages.
In Olympic events, the javelin is a spear about 8 feet, 2 inches (2.5 meters) in length, which is thrown. The javelin thrower gains momentum by running within a predetermined area. Javelin throwing is an event of both the men’s decathlon and the women’s heptathlon.
The javelin was part of the pentathlon of the Ancient Olympic Games beginning in 708 BC in two disciplines, distance and target throw. The javelin was thrown with the aid of a thong, called ankyle wound around the middle of the shaft. Athletes would hold the javelin by the thong and when the javelin was released this thong unwound giving the javelin a spiraled flight.
Throwing javelin-like poles into targets was revived in Germany and Sweden in the early 1870s. In Sweden, these poles developed into the modern javelin, and throwing them for distance became a common event there and in Finland in the 1880s. The rules continued to evolve over the next decades; originally, javelins were thrown with no run-up, and holding them by the grip at the center of gravity was not always mandatory. Limited run-ups were introduced in the late 1890s, and soon developed into the modern unlimited run-up.
Sweden’s Eric Lemming, who threw his first world best (49.32 meters) in 1899 and ruled the event from 1902 to 1912, was the first dominant javelin thrower. When the men’s javelin was introduced as an Olympic discipline at the 1906 Intercalated Games, Lemming won by almost nine meters and broke his own world record; Sweden swept the first four places, as Finland’s best throwers were absent and the event had yet to become popular in any other country. Though challenged by younger talents, Lemming repeated as Olympic champion in 1908 and 1912; his eventual best mark (62.32 meters, thrown after the 1912 Olympics) was the first javelin world record to be officially ratified by the International Association of Athletics Federations.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, most javelin competitions were two-handed; the implement was thrown with the right hand and separately with the left hand, and the best marks for each hand were added together. Competitions for the better hand only were less common, though not unknown. At the Olympics, a both-hands contest was held only once, in 1912; Finland swept the medals, ahead of Lemming. After that, this version of the javelin rapidly faded into obscurity, together with similar variations of the shot and the discus; Sweden’s Yngve Häckner, with his total of 114.28 meters from 1917, was the last official both-hands world record holder.
Another early variant was the freestyle javelin, in which holding the javelin by the grip at the center of gravity was not mandatory; such a freestyle competition was held at the 1908 Olympics, but was dropped from the program after that. Hungary’s Mór Kóczán used a freestyle end grip to break the 60-meter barrier in 1911, a year before Lemming and Julius Saaristo first did so with a regular grip.
The first known women’s javelin marks were recorded in Finland in 1909. Originally, women threw the same implement as men; a lighter, shorter javelin for women was introduced in the 1920s. Women’s javelin throw was added to the Olympic program in 1932; Mildred “Babe” Didrikson of the United States became the first champion.
For a long time, javelins were made of solid wood, typically birch, with a steel tip. The hollow, highly aerodynamic Held javelin, invented by American thrower Bud Held and developed and manufactured by his brother Dick, was introduced in the 1950s; the first Held javelins were also wooden with steel tips, but later models were made entirely of metal. These new javelins flew further, but were also less likely to land neatly point first; as a response to the increasingly frequent flat or ambiguously flat landings, experiments with modified javelins started in the early 1980s. The resulting designs, which made flat landings much less common and reduced the distances thrown, became official for men starting in April 1986 and for women in April 1999, and the world records (then 104.80 meters by Uwe Hohn, and 80.00 meters by Petra Felke) were reset. The current (as of 2017) men’s world record is held by Jan Železný at 98.48 meters (1996); Barbora Špotáková holds the women’s world record at 72.28 meters (2008).
Of the 69 Olympic medals that have been awarded in the men’s javelin, 32 have gone to competitors from Norway, Sweden or Finland. Finland is the only nation to have swept the medals at a currently recognized official Olympics, and has done so twice, in 1920 and 1932, in addition to its 1912 sweep in the two-handed javelin; in 1920 Finland swept the first four places, which is no longer possible as only three entrants per country are allowed. Finland has, however, never been nearly as successful in the women’s javelin.
The javelin throw has been part of the decathlon since the decathlon was introduced in the early 1910s; the all-around, an earlier ten-event contest of American origin, did not include the javelin throw. The javelin was also part of some (though not all) of the many early forms of women’s pentathlon, and has always been included in the heptathlon after it replaced the pentathlon in 1981.
The Men’s Javelin Throw event at the 1960 Summer Olympics took place on September 7–8 at the Stadio Olimpico. The qualifying standard was 60 meters (196 feet 10 inches). There were 28 competitors from 16 nations. The medalists were Gergely Kulcsár of Hungary (bronze), Walter Krüger of the United Team of Germany (silver) and Viktor Tsybulenko from the Soviet Union winning the gold with a throw of 84.64 meters, which fell short of the existing world and Olympic records.