The real story of the ancient Olympic games


The ancient Olympic Games (Ὀλυμπιακοὶ ἀγῶνες) were mainly part of a religious holiday in honor of Zeus, the father of the Greek gods and goddesses.

The festival and games were held in Olympia, an ancient rural sanctuary in the western Peloponnese dedicated to the worship of Zeus.

The sanctuary was named in ancient times after Mt. Olympos, the highest mountain in mainland Greece. In Greek mythology, Mt. Olympos was the home of the greatest Greek gods and goddesses.

Olympia is classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

According to some literary accounts, the ancient Olympic Games began in the year 776 BC, when Koroibos, a cook from the nearby town of Elis, won the stadium race, a 600-foot-long running race.

However, evidence to the contrary, both literary and archaeological, suggests that the games may have existed in Olympia long before this date, possibly as early as the 10th or 9th century BC.

Old Olympic Games stadium track
The old track of the stadium of Olympia
ancient olympic games stadium arch
The entrance to the arc stadium in Olympia

From 776 BCE to 393 CE, the games were held every four years, or Olympiads, which have become a unit of time in historical timelines.

They continued to be celebrated when Greece came under Roman rule in the 2nd century BC.

Their last recorded celebration was in 393 AD, under the Emperor Theodosius I, but archaeological evidence indicates that some games still took place after this date.

The games probably ended under Theodosius II, possibly in connection with a fire that burned the temple of Olympian Zeus during his reign.

Former Olympic athletes

The Greeks who came to the Sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia shared the same religious beliefs and spoke the same language.

The athletes were all male citizens of city-states from all over the Greek world, coming from as far as the Iberian Peninsula (Spain) to the west and the Black Sea (Turkey) to the east.

Only free-born Greek men were allowed to participate, although there were victorious women who owned tanks. As long as they met the admission criteria, athletes from any Greek country city-state and the kingdom were allowed to participate.

During the celebration of the games, a Olympic truce was enacted so that athletes can travel from their cities to the games safely.

Ancient Olympic Prizes

The prizes for the winners were olive leaf wreaths or crowns.

ancient olympic games olive wreath

bronze tripos Ancient Olympic Games

A series of bronze tripods have been found in Olympia, some of which may date from the 9th century BC, and it has been suggested that these tripods may in fact have been prizes for some of the early events in Olympia as well.

The ancient Olympic program

The Ancient Olympics were initially a one-day event until 684 BC, when they were extended to three days.

Additional sporting events were gradually added until, in the 5th century BC, the religious holiday consisted of a five-day program.

The ancient Games included running, long jump, shot put, javelin, boxing, pancrace (an old version of modern mixed martial arts) and equestrian events.

Olympic Games

Olympic Games
Detail of a Kylix red-figure attic, ca. 490-480 BC, depicting two men fighting. Above them, hang a disc in their bag and a pair of jumping weights called ‘dumbbells’. The long jumpers used the weights to increase their competition distances by swinging them vigorously forward as they took off. The coach or coach stands to the left of the wrestlers, leaning on their stick and holding a long forked branch. The Penn Museum object number: MS 2444.


The marathon was not a test of the old Olympic games. The marathon is a modern event that was first introduced during the modern 1896 Olympic Games in Athens, a race from the marathon northeast of Athens to the Olympic Stadium, over a distance of 40 kilometers.

The race commemorates the race of Pheidippides, a former “day runner” who brought the news of the Persian landing at 490 BC Marathon to Sparta (a distance of 149 miles) in order to get help for the battle. According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus from the 5th century BC. AD, Pheidippides announced the news to the Spartans the next day.

The modern marathon distance has been standardized to 26 miles 385 yards or 42,195 km. in 1908 when the Olympic Games were held in London. The distance was the exact measurement between Windsor Castle, the start of the race and the finish line inside White City Stadium.

Three runners were featured on an Attic black-figure Panathenaic award amphora. 332-333 BC. BC, British Museum.

Nudity at the Olympics

It is believed that the Homeric athletes of the Iliad and the first ancient Olympians in 776 BCE originally wore loincloths to compete.

There are two stories related to the issue of nudity in the ancient Olympics.

A story goes that it was a runner from Megara, Orsippus or Orrhippos who, in 720 BC. AD was the first to run naked in the stadium race when he lost his shorts in the race.

Another story claims that it was the Spartans who introduced nudity to the Olympics in the 8th century BC, as it was a Spartan tradition to exercise naked.

It is not clear whether the very first recorded winner at Olympia, Koroibos, who won the stadium race in 776 BC.

It seems pretty clear that by the end of the 8th century nudity was common among male competitors.

From ancient times to modern times

Although the Ancient Games were held in Olympia, Greece, from 776 BC to 393 AD, it took 1,503 years for the Olympics to return.

The first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens, Greece, in 1896.

The man responsible for its rebirth was a Frenchman named Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who presented the idea in 1894.

His initial idea was to unveil the Modern Games in 1900 in his native Paris, but delegates from 34 countries were so enthralled with the concept that they convinced him to move the Games to 1896 and have Athens as his first. host.

The olympic flame

There was no torch relay at the ancient Olympics. There were, however, torch relays known at other ancient Greek sporting festivals, including those held in Athens.

The idea of ​​the Olympic torch or Olympic flame was first inaugurated at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam.

The modern Olympic torch relay was first instituted at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

The Olympic oath

The Olympic oath was introduced in 1920.

The current wording of the Olympic oath is as follows:

We are committed to participating in these Olympic Games with respect and respect for the rules and in a spirit of fair play, inclusion and equality. Together, we are united and we are committed to playing sport without doping, without cheating, without any form of discrimination. We do it for the honor of our teams, with respect for the fundamental principles of Olympism, and to make the world a better place through sport.

The Olympic flag

The modern Olympic flag consisting of five linked rings, each with a primary color used in the flags of nations participating in the games, was introduced in 1908. There is no ancient basis for this modern symbol.

Olympic Games Flag

Winter game

There was no Olympic winter festival in ancient times.

Separate Winter Games were first allowed in 1911 to be held in 1916, but due to World War I they did not take place until 1924, in Chamonix.

The first modern Winter Olympics were held in 1924 in Chamonix, France.

From Lillehammer in 1994, it was decided that every two years would be an Olympic year (with alternating Summer and Winter Games), rather than having all Summer and Winter Games. every 4 years. This was done to accommodate television networks and audiences.

Japanese Ambassador to Greece presents awards to the team that lit the Tokyo 2020 Olympic flame

Ancient Greece, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, boxing, equestrian events, Greek, Greek god, Greek gods, Greek history, Greek news, History of the Olympic games, javelin, Koroibos, long jump, Olympus, Olympians, Olympic, Olympic games, Orsippus , Pancrace, Pheidippides, race, shot put, Stadion, The Iliad, Zeus

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