Sport Without Borders

Birth of the Ancient Olympics

The Olympics began in Ancient Greece as religious ceremonies. The first records of the Olympics date back to 776 B.C., when the games lasted only one day.

They were held every four years until they ended in 394 A.D.  According to legend, Hercules was the person who initiated the Ancient Greek Olympics about 1200 B.C.  Archaeological evidence corroborates the date, but not the person.

The Site of the Ancient Greece Olympics

Olympia was the site of the Olympics of Ancient Greece, because it was a natural amphitheater situated among the wooded slopes and plains of the region between the Alpheus and Claudius Rivers.  It was also conveniently located, so it was possible to reach this site by ship, allowing participants to come here from faraway locations.  The Olympics was a time of peace for Ancient Greece, as there was a truce declared a month before to allow all participants to travel safely to Olympia.  Any city that broke this truce could be fined by having all their athletes banned from the competition.

Olympia was the site of a religious festival held in Ancient Greece.  It was here that the Olympics first started as part of a religious ceremony in which the ancient Greeks paid homage to Zeus and fallen heroes.  Prayer and sacrificial offerings preceded the events of the games.

How Ancient Greeks Knew of the Olympics

Runners were sent to every part of the country in the year in which the games would take place in order to let everyone in Ancient Greece know of the Olympics.  These heralds, as they were called, announced a scared truce for one month of the year.  This event was the forerunner of the carrying of the torch, which takes place as a prelude to the modern Olympics.

Competitors in the Olympics of Ancient Greece

Competitors had to be free born to participate in the Olympic games, which exempted slaves from taking part in the games.  There were separate competitions for men and boys.  Youths were placed in divisions for the competition depending on their age, strength, and physical size.  Although women were not permitted to take part in actual physical competitions, they were permitted to take part in equestrian events.  However, a woman had to be an owner of a chariot team or a horse in order to compete in these events.

Prizes for Winners of Ancient Greek Olympics

Winner of competitions were crowned as victors with crowns made from olive leaves taken from the burial place of Zeus.  A winner also received the option of having a statue of himself set up at the site in Olympia.  Upon returning to his hometown, a victor was treated as a celebrity and received treats such as free meals and the best seats at public events.  Athletes in these Olympics in Ancient Greece competed for the glory of Zeus, and as winners, they felt that Zeus had looked favorably upon them.

Athletics were very important to the male population of Ancient Greece, and the education of every boy included training in athletics as well as other subjects.  The Ancient Greeks were very competitive, with each one striving to be the perfect athlete.  It was, therefore, one of the highest honors to be crowned a winner at the Olympics of Ancient Greece.  The winner of the Olympics also had the Olympiad named after him.  There were no second prizes at these Olympics, so the goal was to win and be the best of all competitors.

Games of the Ancient Greek Olympics

The competitions of the early Olympics of Ancient Greece consisted mainly of races. The first Olympics contained only a 200-yard foot race, called the stade.  Then came another competition, the diaulos, the 400-yard race, and finally, the pentathlon was introduced.  The pentathlon was an event that consisted of several tests of strength and endurance, such as discus throwing, javelin, long jump, running, and wrestling.  There were ten events in total, which also included chariot racing and horse racing.  Women were permitted to take part in the last two sports.

The first day of the Ancient Greek Olympics was devoted to religious ceremonies. Competitors took an oath that they would abide by the rules of the games.  Footraces followed on the next day, and on the subsequent days, there were events of boxing, wrestling, and a combination of boxing and wrestling known as pancratium.  The sports played at these games were very brutal and did not end until one of the competitors admitted defeat.

Judges of the Olympics of Ancient Greece

Judges for the competitions of the Ancient Greek Olympics were all chosen from one place – Ellis.  This was because Olympia was part of the region of Ellis.  Cheating was not permitted under any circumstances.  A competitor caught cheating was fined.

The Ancient Greek Olympics never did become a secular event.  Up until the time they ended, they still retained the religious significance for both the competitors and the onlookers.