Ancient Olympic Games

Greek: Ολυμπιακοι αγωνες στην αρχαιοτητα
Where: Olympia, Peloponnese
Time Period: 776 BC – 393 BC (1,169 years)
Participants: Free men who spoke Greek from Greek City-States

Runners at the Olympic Games.

Runners at the Olympic Games.

The Olympic Games of ancient Greece were a series of athletic competitions held for representatives of various Greek city-states in honour of Zeus. Theybegan in 776 BC in Olympia until they were suppressed in 393 AD by Theodosius I as part of the campaign to impose Christianity as a state religion (that’s over 1000 years of competition!). The site of Olympia remained until an earthquake destroyed it in the sixth century AD and all that is left of it is ruins of temples and the stadium. The Games were usually held every four years, or olympiad, as it became to be known. During the Olympics a truce was enacted among the various Greek city-states so that athletes could travel from their countries to the Games in safety. The prizes for the victors were olive wreaths or crowns and lasting glory in their cities.

The games began with only a few events, mostly races, discus, javelin, jumping and the hoplitodromos, a race where the athletes would run in full armour. Eventually boxing, wrestling and chariot racing would be added. The Greek tradition of athletic nudity was introduced in 720 BC, either by the Spartans or by the Megarian Orsippus, as the Olympics were meant to celebrate the achievements of the human body. Olive oil was also used by the athletes to keep their skin smooth and provide an appealing look.

The Games were also used to help spread Hellenistic culture throughout the Mediterranean and featured religious celebrations and artistic competitions. A great statue of Zeus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world was erected in Olympia to preside over the Games. After the Olympics were banished in 393 AD it would be another 1,497 years until they would be revived again in 1896 in Athens. The Olympic games continue to live on and have become the biggest sporting event in the world.

Ancient Olympia (1 of 2):

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