The most famous and oldest athletic competition in the world. The religious ceremonies and rituals that surrounded the games and the prestige afforded to the victors.
The Olympic Games
The Ancient Olympic games originated at the site of the cult of Zeus at Olympia in his sanctuary that was called the Altis. Athletes from all over Greece, and its provinces, would gather in Olympia in order to compete against each other for their own honor and that of their city states. The different events included running, leaping, wrestling, throwing the discus, hurling the javelin and boxing. The ancient Olympic games were highly political with Greek cities competing against each other for the glory and prestige of victory. The donation of gifts were encouraged and the great cities of ancient Greece made significant offerings which were stored in the vast treasuries at Olympia, most of which were situated on the main road through to the temple of Zeus. Olympia was a magnificent city, the main hub being the great Temple of Zeus at Olympia which housed the Colossal Statue of Zeus. The Olympic games always signalled a time of peace and truce providing leaders with the opportunity to meet together unarmed and in safety and to safeguard those travelling to and from Olympia. As the great festival approached Heralds proclaimed throughout Greece the "truce of God". The sheer numbers of people who flocked to Olympia also helped to establish it as one of the major centres for trade.
Zeus at Olympia - The City
Outside the Sanctuary of Zeus, called the Altis, the city of Olympia emerged. It consisted of the many normal facilities offered by cities such as shops, trade centres, meeting places, eating houses, saunas, baths, swimming pools etc. But Olympia also included facilities that were necessary for hosting the ancient Olympic games in honor of Zeus:
- The Stadium: The Stadium at Olympia seated 50,000 spectators
- The track was 212.54 m (697.3 ft) long and 28.5 m (94 ft) wide
- The Olympic Games originally contained one event called the 'stadion'
- The 'stadion race' was a race over about 190 metres (620 ft) and our modern word 'stadium' is derived from this ancient foot race
- The starting line was at the east end of the stadium and the finish line at the west of the stadium
- The Hippodrome: The Hippodrome was a chariot racing stadium
- The Gymnasium: The Gymnasium at Olympia consisted of a large open field and two colonades, or porticos, which were walkways covered by a roof structure supported by columns. The East Portico was exactly as long as the distance to be covered in the stadium race, and offered shelter from the elements if this were necessary
- On the wall of the portico was inscribed the list of the honored Olympic Victors
- The Palaestra: The Palaestra consisted of a large courtyard surrounded by rooms on all four sides where the boxers and wrestlers trained
- The Hellanodikeion was the residence of the commissioners of the festival ( they were called the Hellanodikai)
- The Bouleuterion: The Bouleuterion at Olympia was the building where the administration of the games took place and where the athletes took the Olympic Oath
- The Leonidaion: The Leonidaion was a guest-house for distinguished visitors to Olympia
Short Facts about the Ancient Olympic Games
Discover interesting information and short facts about the Ancient Olympic Games.
- The first Olympic Games were believed to have been held in 776BC
- They were introduced during a peace treaty between Sparta and Elis
- Elis was an ancient district in southern Greece on the Peloponnesos peninsula.
- The city of Elis financed the building of the Temple of Zeus after defeating the rival city of Pisa. The booty gained during the war paid for the temple and ensured that Elis had control over the ancient Olympic Games.
- During the games, all of Greece was under a truce, there could be no wars or battles
- The period of peace was always in the summer and at first was one month duration but this was extended to three months - allowing competitors and those travelling to attend the festival a safe journey
- There were for festivals that were held in order so that there would be one set of games each year. The names of the festivals were the Olympian, Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian Games
- The first events only lasted for one day but soon afterwards many other events were added including chariot racing, discus throwing, the javelin, the long jump, boxing, wrestling and the pentathlon
- The length of the festivals increased to 5 days and included sporting events, rituals, processions, feasts and celebrations
- On the first day the competitors would register and take a sacred oath. 100 oxen were killed as a sacrifice to Zeus
- On the second day the horse races and Pentathlon were held
- On the third day the track races took place
- On the fourth day there was wrestling, boxing and the Pancrateon (a Greek martial art) took place
- On the fifth day the prizes were handed out and all participants of the Olympic Games attended a feast in which the sacrificed oxen were eaten
- Slaves and women were strictly forbidden to watch the games. Girls competed at the festival of Hera
- The festivals also provided the opportunity for contests in music, poetry, and eloquence. Productions were presented to the public and the names of the victors was spread across Greece
- Competitors and judges took an oath swearing to observe all of the rules
- Winners were honoured at state banquets. The athletes were presented with wreaths made of laurel leaves. The victors in the races and athletic games received a traditional prize for athletic events which was a gilded vase of oil, supposed to have been extracted from the fruit of the sacred olive-tree of Athena. There seems to have been no second prize in any of the ancient events
- The running event, which had originally been the only competition, always came first. The distance was once up the course, and seems to have been about 200 yards
- After the year 720 B. C. races of double the course, and long races of about 3000 yards were added
- Races in armor were a later addition, and came at the end of the athletic sports events
- The races were run in heats of four, and if there was an odd man over, the owner of the last lot drawn could sit down till the winners of the heats were declared, and then run against them without any previous fatigue. Some of the victors were therefore not necessarily the best athletes!
- Competitors were walked into the arena through an underground passage in the raised side of the stadium, and their name and country of each proclaimed in order by a herald.
- Following the wrestling events there followed the throwing of the discus and the dart and the long jump
- The discus-throwing was mainly to test distance. The discus was either of stone or of metal, and was very heavy
- The dart-throwing was to test accuracy and the ability to strike a mark
- In the pentathlon a man had to win three events in order to be declared victor
- The boxing events were highly dangerous. The Greeks were not content with naked fists, but also used a special apparatus which consisted at first of a weight carried in the hand, and fastened by thongs of hide round the hand and wrist.
- The pankration combined boxing and wrestling, and permitted every sort of physical violence, except biting
- The umpires were men of importance and chosen ten months before the festivals. The umpires had to reside together in a public building, and undergo strict training. They wore purple robes and were assisted by heralds, trumpeters and stewards.
- In 393 AD, the Games were abolished by the Roman emperor Theodosios I.