5 Myths About the Ancient Olympics

5 Myths About the Ancient Olympics

1. Only amateur athletes competed in the ancient Olympics.
The idea that only amateurs should participate in the Olympics is an entirely modern-day concept that developed when the sporting festival was resurrected in 1896. Not only were many ancient Olympians full-time professionals who received stipends from states or private patrons, but the ancient Greeks didn’t even have a word for “amateur.” (To the Greeks, the word “athlete” meant “one who competes for a prize.”) Money prizes were not offered to competitors at Olympia, but they were at other Greek sporting competitions. As is the case today, fame and fortune awaited many ancient Olympic champions when they returned home. States awarded cash prizes to Olympic victors. Athens, for example, showered its champions with enormous sums of money and other rewards such as tax exemptions, front-row theater seats and a lifetime of free meals in its civic building.

2. The ancient Olympics were not plagued by cheating and corruption.
No matter the millennium, the lure of winning can be too tempting for some competitive athletes. Although ancient Olympians stood before a menacing statue of Zeus and swore to play fair, some athletes were willing to evoke divine wrath for the thrill of victory. Athletes breaking the rules could be disqualified and publicly whipped, and competitors and judges found guilty of bribery could pay hefty fines, some of which were used to finance bronze statues of Zeus erected near the entrance to Olympia’s stadium. “Victory is to be achieved by speed of feet and strength of body, not with cash,” admonished the statue inscriptions. Clearly not everyone paid heed: Over the years, fines paid for the erection of 16 statues.

The first recorded cheating scandal at the games dates to 388 B.C., when boxer Eupolus of Thessaly bribed three opponents to throw their fights against him. Leave it to a politician, however, to take corruption to a new, practically farcical level. When the Roman emperor Nero opted to compete at Olympia in A.D. 67, he bestowed astronomical bribes on the judges, who then agreed to add musical events and poetry reading—activities that Nero considered to be his strong suits—to the Olympic program. The Roman emperor entered the four-horse chariot race with a team of 10 steeds. Although Nero fell out of the chariot and was unable to finish the race, the judges still awarded him the top prize. Nero returned from the Olympics and other Greek sporting events with a haul of 1,808 first-place prizes. Take that, Michael Phelps.

3. Politics and warfare were absent from the ancient Olympics.
With competitors converging from hundreds of independent states, some of them rivals on the battlefields as well as the playing fields, politics inevitably intruded upon the ancient sporting festival. During the Peloponnesian War in 424 B.C., Spartans were banned from competing in or attending the games. While a sacred truce traditionally halted all hostilities during the ancient Olympics, war came right to Olympia during the games in 364 B.C. As the tiebreaking wrestling match in the final event of the pentathlon was taking place, invaders from neighboring Elis attacked. Archers defending Olympia fired from the roofs of the temples. (Security measures for the 2012 London Games, which included soldiers on rooftops with surface-to-air missiles, echoed these long-ago events.) While 5,000 troops engaged in hand-to-hand fighting, spectators used to cheering bloodied athletes in combat sports such as boxing and wrestling stuck around and turned their applause to the warring armies.

4. The ancient Olympics were devoid of commercialism.
The billions of dollars that the International Olympic Committee receives from corporate sponsors and television broadcasters has taken it to a new extreme, but commerce at the Olympics isn’t a modern-day invention. In the ancient games, licensed merchants ran food and drink concessions and sold souvenirs. Artists, sculptors and poets hawked their works. Olympic organizers could hand out on-the-spot fines to merchants who engaged in price gouging or sold inferior merchandise. Champions of the ancient games may not have gotten their photographs on boxes of Wheaties, but their images appeared on specially minted coins and state-commissioned statues.

5. Ancient Olympians trained on their own.
As with many of today’s Olympians, competitors in the ancient games had a wide support network that assisted them in preparation and training. Like many countries today, Greek states invested in sporting facilities and hired trainers who assisted athletes with medicine, nutrition and physiotherapy. Trainers of Olympic champions became famous themselves and penned popular training manuals with advice on exercise and diet.


5 Myths About the Ancient Olympics

1. Only amateur athletes competed in the ancient Olympics.
The idea that only amateurs should participate in the Olympics is an entirely modern-day concept that developed when the sporting festival was resurrected in 1896. Not only were many ancient Olympians full-time professionals who received stipends from states or private patrons, but the ancient Greeks didn’t even have a word for “amateur.” (To the Greeks, the word “athlete” meant “one who competes for a prize.”) Money prizes were not offered to competitors at Olympia, but they were at other Greek sporting competitions. As is the case today, fame and fortune awaited many ancient Olympic champions when they returned home. States awarded cash prizes to Olympic victors. Athens, for example, showered its champions with enormous sums of money and other rewards such as tax exemptions, front-row theater seats and a lifetime of free meals in its civic building.


2. The ancient Olympics were not plagued by cheating and corruption.
No matter the millennium, the lure of winning can be too tempting for some competitive athletes. Although ancient Olympians stood before a menacing statue of Zeus and swore to play fair, some athletes were willing to evoke divine wrath for the thrill of victory. Athletes breaking the rules could be disqualified and publicly whipped, and competitors and judges found guilty of bribery could pay hefty fines, some of which were used to finance bronze statues of Zeus erected near the entrance to Olympia’s stadium. “Victory is to be achieved by speed of feet and strength of body, not with cash,” admonished the statue inscriptions. Clearly not everyone paid heed: Over the years, fines paid for the erection of 16 statues.

The first recorded cheating scandal at the games dates to 388 B.C., when boxer Eupolus of Thessaly bribed three opponents to throw their fights against him. Leave it to a politician, however, to take corruption to a new, practically farcical level. When the Roman emperor Nero opted to compete at Olympia in A.D. 67, he bestowed astronomical bribes on the judges, who then agreed to add musical events and poetry reading—activities that Nero considered to be his strong suits—to the Olympic program. The Roman emperor entered the four-horse chariot race with a team of 10 steeds. Although Nero fell out of the chariot and was unable to finish the race, the judges still awarded him the top prize. Nero returned from the Olympics and other Greek sporting events with a haul of 1,808 first-place prizes. Take that, Michael Phelps.


3. Politics and warfare were absent from the ancient Olympics.
With competitors converging from hundreds of independent states, some of them rivals on the battlefields as well as the playing fields, politics inevitably intruded upon the ancient sporting festival. During the Peloponnesian War in 424 B.C., Spartans were banned from competing in or attending the games. While a sacred truce traditionally halted all hostilities during the ancient Olympics, war came right to Olympia during the games in 364 B.C. As the tiebreaking wrestling match in the final event of the pentathlon was taking place, invaders from neighboring Elis attacked. Archers defending Olympia fired from the roofs of the temples. (Security measures for the 2012 London Games, which included soldiers on rooftops with surface-to-air missiles, echoed these long-ago events.) While 5,000 troops engaged in hand-to-hand fighting, spectators used to cheering bloodied athletes in combat sports such as boxing and wrestling stuck around and turned their applause to the warring armies.


4. The ancient Olympics were devoid of commercialism.
The billions of dollars that the International Olympic Committee receives from corporate sponsors and television broadcasters has taken it to a new extreme, but commerce at the Olympics isn’t a modern-day invention. In the ancient games, licensed merchants ran food and drink concessions and sold souvenirs. Artists, sculptors and poets hawked their works. Olympic organizers could hand out on-the-spot fines to merchants who engaged in price gouging or sold inferior merchandise. Champions of the ancient games may not have gotten their photographs on boxes of Wheaties, but their images appeared on specially minted coins and state-commissioned statues.


5. Ancient Olympians trained on their own.
As with many of today’s Olympians, competitors in the ancient games had a wide support network that assisted them in preparation and training. Like many countries today, Greek states invested in sporting facilities and hired trainers who assisted athletes with medicine, nutrition and physiotherapy. Trainers of Olympic champions became famous themselves and penned popular training manuals with advice on exercise and diet.


Contents

To the Ancient Greeks, it was important to root the Olympic Games in mythology. [7] During the time of the ancient games their origins were attributed to the gods, and competing legends persisted as to who actually was responsible for the genesis of the games. [8]

These origin traditions have become nearly impossible to untangle, yet a chronology and patterns have arisen that help people understand the story behind the games. [9] Greek historian, Pausanias provides a story about the dactyl Heracles (not to be confused with the son of Zeus and the Roman god Hercules) and four of his brothers, Paeonaeus, Epimedes, Iasius and Idas, who raced at Olympia to entertain the newborn Zeus. He crowned the victor with an olive wreath (which thus became a peace symbol), which also explains the four-year interval, bringing the games around every fifth year (counting inclusively). [10] [11] The other Olympian gods (so named because they lived permanently on Mount Olympus) would also engage in wrestling, jumping and running contests. [12]

Another myth of the origin of the games is the story of Pelops, a local Olympian hero. Oenomaus, the king of Pisa, Greece, had a daughter named Hippodamia, and according to an oracle, the king would be killed by her husband. Therefore, he decreed that any young man who wanted to marry his daughter was required to drive away with her in his chariot, and Oenomaus would follow in another chariot, and spear the suitor if he caught up with them. Now, the king's chariot horses were a present from the god Poseidon and therefore supernaturally fast. The king's daughter fell in love with a man called Pelops. Before the race however, Pelops persuaded Oenomaus' charioteer Myrtilus to replace the bronze axle pins of the king's chariot with wax ones. Naturally, during the race, the wax melted and the king fell from his chariot and was killed. After his victory, Pelops organized chariot races as a thanksgiving to the gods and as funeral games in honor of King Oenomaus, in order to be purified of his death. It was from this funeral race held at Olympia that the beginnings of the Olympic Games were inspired. Pelops became a great king, a local hero, and he gave his name to the Peloponnese.

One (later) myth, attributed to Pindar, states that the festival at Olympia involved Heracles, the son of Zeus: According to Pindar, Heracles established an athletic festival to honor his father, Zeus, after he had completed his labors.

The patterns that emerge from these myths are that the Greeks believed the games had their roots in religion, that athletic competition was tied to worship of the gods, and the revival of the ancient games was intended to bring peace, harmony and a return to the origins of Greek life. [13]

The Olympic games were held to be one of the two central rituals in ancient Greece, the other being the much older religious festival, the Eleusinian Mysteries. [14]

Prehistory Edit

Areas around the Mediterranean had a long tradition of athletic events. Ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians depicted athletic scenes in tombs of kings and their nobles. They did not, however, hold regular competitions, and those events that occurred were probably the preserve of kings and upper classes. Minoans culture held gymnastics in high esteem, with bull-leaping, tumbling, running, wrestling and boxing shown on their frescoes. The Mycenaeans adopted Minoan games and also raced chariots in religious or funerary ceremonies. [15] [16] Homer's heroes participate in athletic competitions to honor the dead. In the Iliad there are chariot races, boxing, wrestling, a foot race, as well as fencing, archery, and spear throwing. The Odyssey adds to these a long jump and discus throw. [17]

First games Edit

Aristotle reckoned the date of the first Olympics to be 776 BC, a date largely accepted by most, though not all, subsequent ancient historians. [18] It is still the traditionally given date and archaeological finds confirm, approximately, the Olympics starting at or soon after this time. [19]

Olympiad calendar Edit

The historian Ephorus, who lived in the fourth century BC, is one potential candidate for establishing the use of Olympiads to count years, although credit for codifying this particular epoch usually falls to Hippias of Elis, to Eratosthenes, or even to Timaeus, whom Eratosthenes may have imitated. [20] [21] [22] The Olympic Games were held at four-year intervals, and later, the ancient historians' method of counting the years even referred to these games, using Olympiad for the period between two games. Previously, the local dating systems of the Greek states were used (they continued to be used by everyone except the historians), which led to confusion when trying to determine dates. For example, Diodorus states that there was a solar eclipse in the third year of the 113th Olympiad, which must be the eclipse of 316 BC. This gives a date of (mid-summer) 765 BC for the first year of the first Olympiad. [23] Nevertheless, there is disagreement among scholars as to when the games began. [24]

The only competition held at first, according to the later Greek traveller Pausanias who wrote in AD 175, was the stadion, a race over about 190 metres (620 feet), measured after the feet of Hercules. The word stadium is derived from this event.

Early history Edit

Several groups fought over control of the sanctuary at Olympia, and hence the games, for prestige and political advantage. Pausanias later writes that in 668 BC, Pheidon of Argos was commissioned by the town of Pisa to capture the sanctuary from the town of Elis, which he did and then personally controlled the games for that year. The next year, Elis regained control.

In the first 200 years of the games' existence, they only had regional religious importance. Only Greeks in proximity to the Olympia competed in these early games. This is evidenced by the dominance of Peloponnesian athletes in the victors' rolls. [25]

The Olympic Games were part of the Panhellenic Games, four separate games held at two- or four-year intervals, but arranged so that there was at least one set of games every year. The Olympic Games were more important and more prestigious than the Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian Games.

Imperial period Edit

Roman conquest of Greece Edit

After the Roman conquest of Greece the Olympics continued but the event declined in popularity throughout the pre-Augustan era. During this period, Romans largely concentrated on domestic problems, and paid less attention to their provinces. The fact that all equestrian victors were from the immediate locality and that there is a "paucity of victor statues in the Altis" from this period suggests the games were somewhat neglected. [26]

In 86 BC the Roman general Sulla robbed Olympia and other Greek treasuries to finance a war. He was the only Roman to commit violence against Olympia. [27] Sulla hosted the games in 80 BC as a celebration of his victories over Mithridates. Supposedly the only contest held was the stadion race because all the athletes had been called to Rome. [28]

Augustus Edit

Under the rule of emperor Augustus the Olympics underwent a revival. Before he came to full power, Augustus' right-hand man Marcus Agrippa restored the damaged temple of Zeus and in 12 BC Augustus asked King Herod of Judea to subsidize the games. While no Roman ever entered an athletic event at Olympia, in the early years of Augustus reign some of his associates, including future emperor Tiberius, won equestrian events.

After Augustus was declared a God by the Senate after his death, a statue of his likeness was commissioned at Olympia. [29] Subsequent divine emperors also had statues erected within the sacred Altis. The stadium was renovated at his command and Greek athletics in general were subsidized. [30]

Nero Edit

One of the most infamous events of Olympic history occurred under the rule of Nero. He desired victory in all chariot races of the Panhellenic Games in a single year, so he ordered the four main hosts to hold their games in 67 and therefore the scheduled Olympics of 65 were postponed. At Olympia he was thrown from his chariot, but still claimed victory. Nero also considered himself a talented musician, so he added contests in music and singing to those festivals that lacked them, including the Olympics. Despite his terrible singing, he won all the contests, no doubt because judges were afraid to award victory to anyone else. After his assassination, the Olympic judges had to repay the bribes he had bestowed and declared the "Neronian Olympiad" to be void. [31]

Renaissance Edit

In the first half of the second century, the Philhellenic emperors, Hadrian and Antoninus Pius oversaw a new and successful phase in the history of the games. The Olympics attracted a great number of spectators and competitors and the victors' fame spread across the Roman Empire. The renaissance endured for most of the second century. Once again, "philosophers, orators, artists, religious proselytizers, singers, and all kinds of performers went to the festival of Zeus." [32]

Decline Edit

The 3rd century saw a decline in the popularity of the games. The victory list of Africanus ends at the Olympiad of 217 and no surviving text of subsequent authors mention any new Olympic victors. Excavated inscriptions show the games continued, however. Until recently the last securely datable winner was Publius Asclepiades of Corinth who won the pentathlon in 241. In 1994 a bronze plaque was found inscribed with victors of the combative events hailing from the mainland and Asia Minor proof that an international Olympic Games continued until at least 385. [33]

The games continued past 385, by which time flooding and earthquakes had damaged the buildings and invasions by barbarians had reached Olympia. [34] The last recorded games were held under Theodosius I in 393, but archeological evidence indicates that some games were still held. [2] [35]

Olympia lies in the valley of the Alfeiós River (Romanized as Alpheus) in the western part of the Peloponnese, today around 18 km away from the Ionian Sea but perhaps, in antiquity, half that distance. [36] The Altis, as the sanctuary as was originally known, was an irregular quadrangular area more than 180 meters on each side and walled except to the North where it was bounded by the Mount Kronos. [37] It consisted of a somewhat disordered arrangement of buildings, the most important of which are the Temple of Hera, the Temple of Zeus, the Pelopion and the area of the great altar of Zeus, where the largest sacrifices were made. The name Altis was derived from a corruption of the Elean word also meaning "the grove" because the area was wooded, olive and plane trees in particular. [38]

Uninhabited throughout the year, when the games were held the site became over congested. There were no permanent living structures for spectators, who, rich or poor, made do with tents. Ancient visitors recall being plagued by summer heat and flies such a problem that sacrifices were made to Zeus Averter of Flies. The site's water supply and sanitation was finally improved after nearly a thousand years, by the mid-second century AD. [39]

But you may say, there are some things disagreeable and troublesome in life. And are there none at Olympia? Are you not scorched? Are you not pressed by a crowd? Are you not without comfortable means of bathing? Are you not wet when it rains? Have you not abundance of noise, clamour, and other disagreeable things? But I suppose that setting all these things off against the magnificence of the spectacle, you bear and endure.

The ancient Olympics were as much a religious festival as an athletic event. The games were held in honor of the Greek god Zeus, and on the middle day of the games, 100 oxen would be sacrificed to him. [6] Over time, Olympia, the site of the games, became a central spot for the worship of the head of the Greek pantheon and a temple, built by the Greek architect Libon, was erected on the mountaintop. The temple was one of the largest Doric temples in Greece. [6] The sculptor Pheidias created a statue of Zeus made of gold and ivory. It stood 42 feet (13 m) tall. It was placed on a throne in the temple. The statue became one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. [6] As the historian Strabo put it,

. the glory of the temple persisted . on account both of the festal assembly and of the Olympian Games, in which the prize was a crown and which were regarded as sacred, the greatest games in the world. The temple was adorned by its numerous offerings, which were dedicated there from all parts of Greece. [6]

Artistic expression was a major part of the games. Sculptors, poets, painters and other artisans would come to the games to display their works in what became an artistic competition. Poets would be commissioned to write poems in praise of the Olympic victors. Such victory songs or epinicians, were passed on from generation to generation and many of them have lasted far longer than any other honor made for the same purpose. [40] Pierre de Coubertin, one of the founders of the modern Olympic Games, wanted to fully imitate the ancient Olympics in every way. Included in his vision was an artistic competition modeled on the ancient Olympics and held every four years, during the celebration of the Olympic Games. [41] His desire came to fruition at the Olympics held in Athens in 1896. [42]

Power in ancient Greece became centered around the city-state in the 8th century BC. [43] The city-state was a population center organized into a self-contained political entity. [44] These city-states often lived in close proximity to each other, which created competition for limited resources. Though conflict between the city-states was ubiquitous, it was also in their self-interest to engage in trade, military alliances and cultural interaction. [45] The city-states had a dichotomous relationship with each other: on one hand, they relied on their neighbors for political and military alliances, while on the other they competed fiercely with those same neighbors for vital resources. [46] The Olympic Games were established in this political context and served as a venue for representatives of the city-states to peacefully compete against each other. [47]

The spread of Greek colonies in the 5th and 6th centuries BC is repeatedly linked to successful Olympic athletes. For example, Pausanias recounts that Cyrene was founded c. 630 BC by settlers from Thera with Spartan support. The support Sparta gave was primarily the loan of three-time Olympic champion Chionis. The appeal of settling with an Olympic champion helped to populate the colonies and maintain cultural and political ties with the city-states near Olympia. Thus, Hellenic culture and the games spread while the primacy of Olympia persisted. [48]

The games faced a serious challenge during the Peloponnesian War, which primarily pitted Athens against Sparta, but, in reality, touched nearly every Hellenic city-state. [49] The Olympics were used during this time to announce alliances and offer sacrifices to the gods for victory. [6] [50]

During the Olympic Games, a truce, or ekecheiria was observed. Three runners, known as spondophoroi, were sent from Elis to the participant cities at each set of games to announce the beginning of the truce. [51] During this period, armies were forbidden from entering Olympia. Legal disputes and the use of the death penalty were forbidden. The truce — primarily designed to allow athletes and visitors to travel safely to the games — was, for the most part, observed. [51] Thucydides wrote of a situation when the Spartans were forbidden from attending the games, and the violators of the truce were fined 2,000 minae for assaulting the city of Lepreum during the period of the ekecheiria. The Spartans disputed the fine and claimed that the truce had not yet taken hold. [50] [52]

While a martial truce was observed by all participating city-states, no such reprieve from conflict existed in the political arena. The Olympic Games evolved the most influential athletic and cultural stage in ancient Greece, and arguably in the ancient world. [53] As such the games became a vehicle for city-states to promote themselves. The result was political intrigue and controversy. For example, Pausanias, a Greek historian, explains the situation of the athlete Sotades,

Sotades at the ninety-ninth Festival was victorious in the long race and proclaimed a Cretan, as in fact he was. But at the next Festival he made himself an Ephesian, being bribed to do so by the Ephesian people. For this act he was banished by the Cretans. [6]

Events at the Olympics
Olympiad Year Event first introduced
1st 776 BC Stade
14th 724 BC Diaulos
15th 720 BC Long distance race (Dolichos)
18th 708 BC Pentathlon, wrestling
23rd 688 BC Boxing (pygmachia)
25th 680 BC Four horse chariot race (tethrippon)
33rd 648 BC Horse race (keles), pankration
37th 632 BC Boys' stade and wrestling
38th 628 BC Boys' pentathlon (Discontinued same year)
41st 616 BC Boys' boxing
65th 520 BC Hoplite race (hoplitodromos)
70th 500 BC Mule-cart race (apene)
71st 496 BC Mare horse race (calpe)
84th 444 BC Mule-cart race (apene) and Mare horse race (calpe) both discontinued
93rd 408 BC Two-horse chariot race (synoris)
96th 396 BC Competition for heralds and trumpeters
99th 384 BC Tethrippon for horse over one year
128th 266 BC Chariot for horse over one year
131st 256 BC Race for horses older than one year
145th 200 BC Pankration for boys

Apparently starting with just a single foot race, the program gradually increased to twenty-three contests, although no more than twenty featured at any one Olympiad. [54] Participation in most events was limited to male athletes, except for women who were allowed to take part by entering horses in the equestrian events. Youth events are recorded as starting in 632 BC. Our knowledge of how the events were performed primarily derives from the paintings of athletes found on many vases, particularly those of the Archaic and Classical periods. [55]

Competitors had access to two gymnasiums for training purposes: the Xystos for the runners and pentathletes, and the Tetragono for wrestlers and boxers. [56]

For most of its history, Olympic events were performed in the nude. Pausanias says that the first naked runner was Orsippus, winner of the stadion race in 720 BC, who simply lost his garment on purpose because running without it was easier. [57] The 5th-century BC historian Thucydides credits the Spartans with introducing the custom of "publicly stripping and anointing themselves with oil in their gymnastic exercises. Formerly, even in the Olympic contests, the athletes who contended wore belts across their middles and it is but a few years since that the practice ceased." [58]

Running Edit

The only event recorded at the first thirteen games was the stade, a straight-line sprint of just over 192 metres. [59] The diaulos (lit. "double pipe"), or two-stade race, is recorded as being introduced at the 14th Olympiad in 724 BC. It is thought that competitors ran in lanes marked out with lime or gypsum for the length of a stade then turned around separate posts (kampteres), before returning to the start line. [60] Xenophanes wrote that "Victory by speed of foot is honored above all."

A third foot race, the dolichos ("long race"), was introduced in the next Olympiad. Accounts of the race's distance differ it seems to have been from twenty to twenty-four laps of the track, around 7.5 km to 9 km, although it may have been lengths rather than laps and thus half as far. [61] [62]

The last running event added to the Olympic program was the hoplitodromos, or "hoplite race", introduced in 520 BC and traditionally run as the last race of the games. Competitors ran either a single or double diaulos (approximately 400 or 800 metres) in full military armour. [63] The hoplitodromos was based on a war tactic of soldiers running in full armor to surprise the enemy.

Combat Edit

Wrestling (pale) is recorded as being introduced at the 18th Olympiad. Three throws were necessary for a win. A throw was counted if the body, hip, back or shoulder (and possibly knee) touched the ground. If both competitors fell nothing was counted. Unlike its modern counterpart Greco-Roman wrestling, it is likely that tripping was allowed. [64]

Boxing (pygmachia) was first listed in 688 BC, [65] the boys' event sixty years later. The laws of boxing were ascribed to the first Olympic champion Onomastus of Smyrna. [64] It appears that body-blows were either not permitted or not practised. [64] [66] The Spartans, who claimed to have invented boxing, quickly abandoned it and did not take part in boxing competitions. [64] At first the boxers wore himantes (sing. himas), long leather strips which were wrapped around their hands. [65]

The pankration was introduced in the 33rd Olympiad (648 BC). [67] Boys' pankration became an Olympic event in 200 BC, in the 145th Olympiad. [68] As well as techniques from boxing and wrestling, athletes used kicks, [69] locks, and chokes on the ground. Although the only prohibitions were against biting and gouging, the pankration was regarded as less dangerous than boxing. [70]

It was one of the most popular events: Pindar wrote eight odes praising victors of the pankration. [64] A famous event in the sport was the posthumous victory of Arrhichion of Phigalia who "expired at the very moment when his opponent acknowledged himself beaten". [64]

Discus Edit

The discus (diskos) event was similar to the modern competition. Stone and iron diskoi have been found, although the most commonly used material appears to be bronze. To what extent the diskos was standardized is unclear, but the most common weight seems to be 2 kg size with a diameter of approximately 21 cm, roughly equivalent to the modern discus. [71]

Long jump Edit

In the long jump (halma) competitors swung a pair of weights called halteres. There was no set design jumpers tended to use either spherical weights made of stone carved to fit the hand or longer lead weights. [72] [73] It is debated whether the jump was performed from a standing start or after a run-up. In his analysis of the event based on vase paintings, Hugh Lee concluded that there was probably a short run-up. [74]

Pentathlon Edit

The pentathlon was a competition made up of five events: running, long jump, discus throw, javelin throw, and wrestling. [64] The pentathlon is said to have first appeared at the 18th Olympiad in 708 BC. [75] The competition was held on a single day, [76] but it is not known how the victor was decided, [77] [78] or in what order the events occurred, [64] except that it finished with the wrestling. [79]

Equestrian events Edit

Horse racing and chariot racing were the most prestigious competitions in the games, due to only the wealthy being able to afford the maintenance and transportation of horses. These races consisted of different events: the four-horse chariot race, the two-horse chariot race, and the horse with rider race, the rider being hand picked by the owner. The four-horse chariot race was the first equestrian event to feature in the Olympics, being introduced in 680 BC. It consisted of two horses that were harnessed under a yoke in the middle, and two outer horses that were attached with a rope. [80] The two-horse chariot was introduced in 408 BC. [81] The horse with rider competition, on the other hand, was introduced in 648 BC. In this race, Greeks did not use saddles or stirrups (the latter was unknown in Europe until about the 6th century AD), so they required good grip and balance. [82]

Pausanias reports that a race for carts drawn by a pair of mules, and a trotting race, were instituted respectively at the seventieth Festival and the seventy-first, but were both abolished by proclamation at the eighty-fourth. The trotting race was for mares, and in the last part of the course the riders jumped off and ran beside the mares. [83]

In 67, the Roman Emperor Nero competed in the chariot race at Olympia. He was thrown from his chariot and was thus unable to finish the race. Nevertheless, he was declared the winner on the basis that he would have won if he had finished the race. [84]

  • Running:
      (stadion, traditionally declared first Olympic champion) (diaulos, first to compete naked) (stadion, diaulos and hoplitodromos) (His record of 12 individual olympic titles was broken in 2016 by Michael Phelps who received his 13th original title. [85][86][87] ) (three-time stadion/diaulos winner and champion jumper) (stadion, diaulos and hoplitodromos) (stadion) [88]
    • Combat:
        (pankratiast, died while successfully defending his championship in the 54th Olympiad (564 BC). Described as "the most famous of all pankratiasts".) (wrestling, legendary six-time victor: once as youth, the rest in the men's event) (boxing 79th Olympiad, 464 BC) and his sons Akusilaos and Damagetos (boxing and pankration)
    • Timasitheos of Croton (wrestling) [89] (boxer, pankratiast and runner) (pankratiast, notorious for his finger-breaking technique) (pankratiast, crowned champion by default in 336 BC when no other pankratiast dared meet compete. Such a victory was called akoniti (lit. without getting dusted) and remains the only one ever recorded in the Olympics in this discipline.) (boxing, Prince and future King of Armenia, last known Ancient Olympic victor (boxing) during the 291st Olympic Games in the 4th century [90]
      • Equestrian:
          of Sparta (owner of a four-horse chariot) (first woman to be listed as an Olympic victor) ("the most famous racehorse in antiquity", 470s BC) (steerer of a four-horse chariot) [91] (steerer of a ten-horse chariot)
        • Other:
            (ten-time trumpet champ)
        • Athletic festivals under the name of "Olympic games", named in imitation of the original festival at Olympia, were established over time in various places all over the Greek world. Some of these are only known to us by inscriptions and coins but others, as the Olympic festival at Antioch, obtained great celebrity. After these Olympic festivals had been established in several places, the great Olympic festival itself was sometimes designated in inscriptions by the addition of Pisa. [92]

          1. ^"History". Olympic Games. Archived from the original on 9 August 2016 . Retrieved 11 August 2016 .
          2. ^ ab
          3. Tony Perrottet (8 June 2004). The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games . Random House Digital, Inc. pp. 190–. ISBN978-1-58836-382-4 . Retrieved 1 April 2013 .
          4. ^ Hamlet, Ingomar. "Theodosius I. And The Olympic Games". Nikephoros 17 (2004): pp. 53-75.
          5. ^
          6. Remijsen, Sofie (2015). The End of Greek Athletics in Late Antiquity. Cambridge University Press. p. 49.
          7. ^ David Sansone, Ancient Greek civilization, Wiley-Blackwell, 2003, p.32
          8. ^ abcdefg
          9. "The Ancient Olympics". The Perseus Project. Tufts University. Archived from the original on 10 February 2010 . Retrieved 12 February 2010 .
          10. ^ Kyle, 1999, p.101
          11. ^ Kyle, 1999, pp.101–102
          12. ^ Kyle, 1999, p.102
          13. ^ Spivey, 2005, pp.225–226
          14. ^Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.7.6–9
          15. ^ Spivey, 2005, p.226
          16. ^ Kyle, 1999, p.102–104
          17. ^
          18. "The Ancient Olympic Games". HickokSports. 4 February 2005. Archived from the original on 22 February 2002 . Retrieved 13 May 2007 .
          19. ^ Young, pp. 5–6
          20. ^
          21. Wendy J. Raschke (15 June 1988). Archaeology Of The Olympics: The Olympics & Other Festivals In Antiquity. Univ of Wisconsin Press. pp. 22–. ISBN978-0-299-11334-6 . Archived from the original on 12 October 2013 . Retrieved 12 August 2012 .
          22. ^ Young, p. 6
          23. ^ Nelson, Max. (2006) "The First Olympic Games" in Gerald P. Schaus and Stephen R. Wenn, eds. Onward to the Olympics: Historical Perspectives on the Olympic Games (Waterloo), pp. 47–58
          24. ^ Young, pp. 16–17
          25. ^ Plutarch, Numa Pompilius 1.4
          26. ^ Dionysius, 1.74–1–3. Little remains of Eratosthenes' Chronographiae, but its academic influence is clearly demonstrated here in the Roman Antiquities by Dionysius of Halicarnassus.
          27. ^ Denis Feeney in Caesar's Calendar: Ancient Time and the Beginnings of History. (Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 2007), 84.
          28. ^ "The Athletics of the Ancient Olympics: A Summary and Research Tool" by Kotynski, p.3 (Quote used with permission). For the calculation of the date, see Kotynski footnote 6.
          29. ^ See, for example, Alfred Mallwitz's article "Cult and Competition Locations at Olympia" p.101 in which he argues that the games may not have started until about 704 BC. Hugh Lee, on the other hand, in his article "The 'First' Olympic Games of 776 B.C.E" p.112, follows an ancient source that claims that there were twenty-seven Olympiads before the first one was recorded in 776. There are no records of Olympic victors extant from earlier than the fifth century BC.
          30. ^ Spivey, 2005, p.172
          31. ^ Young, p. 131
          32. ^ Young, p. 131
          33. ^https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=p2cTDAAAQBAJ&pg=PA26 Newby, p. 26
          34. ^ Drees, p. 119
          35. ^ Young, p. 132
          36. ^ Young, p. 132
          37. ^ Young, p. 133
          38. ^ Young, p. 135
          39. ^
          40. David C. Young (15 April 2008). A Brief History of the Olympic Games. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 135–. ISBN978-0-470-77775-6 . Archived from the original on 3 January 2014 . Retrieved 1 April 2013 .
          41. ^ Hamlet, Ingomar. "Theodosius I. And The Olympic Games". Nikephoros 17 (2004): pp. 53-75.
          42. ^
          43. "Olympia Hypothesis: Tsunamis Buried the Cult Site On the Peloponnese". Science Daily. 11 July 2011 . Retrieved 12 July 2011 .
          44. ^
          45. "Altis | ancient site, Greece".
          46. ^ Wilson Perseus
          47. ^ Young, p. 134

          "A very wealthy Greek, Herodes Atticus, and his very wealthy Roman wife, Regilla, funded an elaborate fountain which was both a practical solution and a work of art. Water, piped in from a tributary of the Alpheus, entered into a large semi-circular basin. Emerging from 83 gargoyle fountains, it was then channeled all around the site. Behind the basin rose a semi-circular colonnade more than 100 feet high, with a series of niches built into its upper level."


          5 Myths About the Ancient Olympics - HISTORY

          THE FAQs: MODERN MYTHS OF THE ANCIENT OLYMPIC GAMES

          The following are common myths surrounding the ancient Olympic Games. If you have a fact-or-fiction question, send an e-mail to David Gilman Romano, the Museum's Olympic expert.


          MYTH #1
          The marathon race was an ancient Greek athletic event.

          REALITY #1
          It was not an ancient event. It was introduced for the first time as an event of the Modern Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens. It commemorated the run of Pheidippides, a day-runner who, according to Herodotus, ran from Athens to Sparta to announce the invasion of Greece by the Persians at Marathon in 490 B.C. According to Herodotus (6, 106) Pheidippides covered the distance between the two cities leaving one day and arriving the next. On behalf of the Athenians, he asked for the Spartans’ help to fight the Persians. Pheidippides did not die as a result of his run.


          MYTH #2
          The torch relay was an event of the ancient Olympic games.

          REALITY #2
          It was not an event of the ancient Olympic games. There were torch relays known as a part of other athletic festivals in Greece, for instance the Panathenaic Games at Athens and the games in honor of Poseidon at the Isthmus of Corinth.


          MYTH #3
          The ancient Olympic games were open to all Greeks.

          REALITY #3
          The ancient Olympic games were only open to male Greek citizens of Greek city-states. This eliminated all foreigners, as well as all females, slaves, foreign workers (metics) and children. Eventually Roman citizens could take part in the Olympic Games.


          MYTH #4
          Females were prohibited from participating in and attending the ancient Olympic games.

          REALITY #4
          The Roman traveler Pausanias ( 5,6,7) tells us that married women were prohibited from watching the mens’ and boys’ contests of the Olympic Games. However, it was possible for a wealthy and aristocratic woman to own a chariot team and enter it in the Olympic Games. On several occasions the chariot team owned by a woman but driven presumably by a male charioteer won an Olympic contest
          Also there was a separate festival at Olympia in honor of Hera, the wife of Zeus, organized and run by women. There were foot races for virgin girls run in three age categories. There were also dances.


          MYTH #5
          The Greeks were the first to introduce athletic training and competition in the history of the ancient world.

          REALITY #5
          The Greeks were not the first to introduce athletic training and competition in the history of the modern world. The Sumerians, Babylonians and Egyptians were known to have training and competition in a number of events including wrestling and boxing and possibly running as early as the third millennium B.C. or approximately 2000 years before the beginning of the ancient Olympic games. It is very likely that Greek athletics were influenced by the accomplishments of these earlier civilizations.


          MYTH #6
          Ancient Olympic athletes were amateur.

          REALITY#6

          Ancient Olympic athletes were neither amateur nor professional. The word athlete is a Greek word that means “one who competes for a prize” and is related to two Greek words, athlos meaning contest and athlon meaning prize. Greek athletes routinely competed for prizes at athletic festivals. Some of the prizes were symbolic, for instance the wreath of olive leaves at Olympia, and others were material prizes worth money, for instance bronze tripods, or amphoras filled with olive oil.


          The Ancient History of Cheating in the Olympics

          Despite accusations of state-sponsored doping scheme, the Russian delegation was not wholly disqualified from the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Instead, individual athletes’ fates were assessed by their respective sporting federations. Those without evidence of doping, it seems, were able to compete – a far more lenient response from the International Olympic Committee than many expected. Moreover it’s more lenient than the IOC’s historical counterpart, the ancient Greek Olympic Council, likely would have handed down.

          Related Content

          Ancient Olympians didn’t have performance-enhancing drugs at their disposal, but according to those who know the era best, if the ancient Greeks could have doped, a number of athletes definitely would have. “We only know of a small number of examples of cheating but it was probably fairly common,” says David Gilman Romano, a professor of Greek archaeology at the University of Arizona. And yet the athletes had competing interests. “Law, oaths, rules, vigilant officials, tradition, the fear of flogging, the religious setting of the games, a personal sense of honor – all these contributed to keep Greek athletic contests clean,” wrote Clarence A. Forbes, a professor of Classics at Ohio State University, in 1952. “And most of the thousands of contests over the centuries were clean.”

          That said, ancient Greeks proved to be creative in their competitiveness. Some attempted to jinx athletes to prevent their success. According to Romano, “curse tablets could be found in athletic contexts. For instance, strips of lead were inscribed with the curse, then folded up and placed in the floor at a critical part of the athletic facility.”

          Olympia in Ancient Greece (Immanuel Giel via Wikicommons)

          Judging from the writings of the second-century A.D. traveler named Pausanias, however, most cheating in the ancient Olympics was related to bribery or foul play. Not coincidentally, the mythological basis of the Olympic games involves both, according to Romano’s writing.  The figure thought to have founded the Olympic Games, Pelops, did so as a celebration of his marriage and chariot victory over the wealthy king Oinomaos, spoils he only gained after bribing the king’s charioteer to sabotage the royal’s ride. The first Games are said to have been held in 776 B.C., though archeological evidence suggest they may have begun centuries earlier.

          References to legendary instances of cheating have survived the centuries. A scene of a wrestler attempting to gouge the eyes of an opponent and bite him simultaneously, with an official poised to hit the double-offender with a stick or a rod, graces the side of a cup from roughly 490 B.C. In Greece today, pedestals that once held great statues still line pathways that led to ancient stadiums. But these were not statues that heralded athletic feats, rather they served as reminders of athletes and coaches who cheated. According to Patrick Hunt, a professor of archaeology at Stanford University, these monuments were funded by levies placed on athletes or on the city-states themselves by the ancient Olympic Council.

          In Pausanias’ account, which is analyzed and translated in Forbes’ article, there were three main methods of dishonesty:

          There are several stories of city-states trying to bribe top athletes to lie and claim that city-state as their own (a practice that continues in some form today, as the story of Dominica’s imported ski team from 2014 proves). When one athlete ran for Syracuse instead of his home city-state of Croton, the city of Croton tore down a statue of him and “seized his house for use as a public jail,” writes Forbes.

          Then there was direct bribery between athletes or between those close to the athletes to influence the results. In 388 B.C., during the 98th Olympics, a boxer named Eupolus of Thessaly bribed three of his opponents to let him win. All four men were heavily fined, and up went six bronze statues of Zeus, four of which had inscriptions about the scandal and a warning to future athletes.

          The Bases of Zanes at Olympia, Greece. Statues of Zeus were erected on these bases, paid for by fines imposed on those who were found to be cheating at the Olympic Games. The names of the athletes were inscribed on the base of each statue to serve as a warning to all. (Nmajdan via Wikicommns)

          Finally, there were “fouls and forbidden tricks,” as Forbes refers to them. He references a fragment of a satirical play found, in which a group of performers claim to be comprised of athletes “skilled in wrestling, horse-racing, running, boxing, biting, and testicle-twisting.” Athletes were beaten with rods or flogged for fouling another player, for cheating to get an advantage, like starting early in a footrace, and for attempting to game the system that determined match-ups and byes.

          And, it turns out, spectators did some cheating of their own, too. “One woman dressed as a man to see her son perform,” says Patrick Hunt. “She was caught and penalized.” Judges even ran into trouble at times. Forbes makes note of an instance in which officials voted to crown a member of their own city-state, an obvious conflict of interests. The judges were fined, but their decision was upheld. Once again, the modern Olympics haven’t been much different, for those who remember the 2002 Winter Games when a French judge gave Russian skaters high marks, allegedly in exchange for a Russian judge reciprocating for French ice dancers.

          Entire city-states could get into trouble as well. In 420 B.C., according to Pausanias, Sparta was banned from the Olympics for violating a peace treaty, but one of their athletes entered the chariot race pretending to represent Thebes. He won, and in his elation, revealed who his true charioteer was. He was flogged and the victory was ultimately recorded as going to Thebes, with no mention of his name, which could be seen as an additional punishment (some records of Olympic victories have been discovered).

          The modern events and global inclusivity of today’s Olympics may suggest how far we’ve come since ancient times, but scandals like the one playing out in Russia this summer remind us of what Patrick Hunt calls human nature: “We want an edge. Russian athletes may be banned from Brazil because of cheating, but people have always been looking for performance enhancing tricks.”

          Ancient list on Papyrus 1185 of Olympic victors of the 75th to the 78th, and from the 81st to the 83rd Olympiads (Public Domain via Wikicommons)

          About Naomi Shavin

          Naomi Shavin is the editorial assistant for Smithsonian magazine.


          The Ancient Olympic Games And The Myths Surrounding Its Origin

          Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
          Snapshot

          The Olympic Games has been regarded, from time immemorial, to be the pinnacle of all sporting events.

          Facts and fiction, regarding its origin, blur— leaving behind tales which are almost as spectacular and engaging as the Games themselves.

          The Games of the XXXI (31st) Olympiad start on 5 August, at Rio de Janeiro‎ in Brazil. The Games have come a long way since their resurrection in 1896. However, what has not changed from some 2500 years ago— when the Olympics were first held in the kingdom of Elis, in Greece, at a site called Olympia— is the aura surrounding the games.

          Like most momentous events that become part of humanity’s narrative, the Games, too, have a fair bit of myth and “divine” intervention surrounding its birth. Facts and fiction blur, leaving behind tales which are almost as spectacular and engaging as the Games themselves.

          There are many legends and myths about how the Games came into being. While it might seem that most stories are works of fiction, it is important to remember how humans have always had a flair for exaggerating the extraordinary achievements of men (and some women) and have, in most cases, posthumously elevated them to the status of demigods. Thus, the myths and legends associated with the origins of the Games should be viewed through a lens.

          The most popular myth, surrounding the origin of the Games, is that of Pelops, the eventual founder of the games. Pelops was a local hero of Olympia and an extremely handsome man. This story begins with Oinomaos, the king of Pisa (a district close to Elis), who had a beautiful daughter named Hippodameia. According to a prophecy, Oinomaos would be killed by his daughter’s husband. Thus, to prevent that from happening, the king decided that any man who wanted to marry his daughter was required to drive away with her in his chariot, and Oinomaos would follow in another chariot and spear the suitor if he caught up with them.

          The king was certain his plan was foolproof as his chariot was drawn by supernaturally fast horses, presented by Poseidon, the God of the Sea. However, as soon as the king’s daughter saw Pelops, she fell in love with him and bribed her father’s charioteer to replace the bronze axle pins of the king’s chariot with wax ones. As she had planned, the wax melted during the pursuit and the king fell from his chariot and was killed. Pelops married Hippodamia but, after this victory, Pelops wanted to be purified from the guilt of having killed his father-in-law. He organised chariot races to thank the Gods, as well as to honour King Oinomaos. These became the first ever Olympic games.

          However, the lesser known but more interesting story about the birth of the Games involves Heracles, the son of the God of Thunder and Lightning, Zeus. Being the son of a God, Heracles had super human strength but with that, he also had flashes of raging temper. One of the earliest incidents occurred when Heracles was in the midst of a music lesson. Heracles’ music teacher, Linus, told him that he wasn’t playing the lyre very well. Heracles flew into a fit of rage, swung his lyre and killed his teacher with one blow. Over the years, due to his temper, Heracles killed various creatures, but the Gods finally stepped in when in a fit of rage, Heracles killed one of his own children.

          As punishment, Heracles was told to serve the king of Mycenae, Eurystheus, for 12 years. During these 12 years, he was given 12 extremely difficult tasks to carry out, which later became known as “The Twelve Labours of Heracles.” These tasks were as follows:

          1. Slay the Nemean Lion (A lion monster that could not be killed by mortal weapons)

          2. Slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra (A serpentine water monster)

          3. Capture the Ceryneian Hind (An enormous deer which could outrun an arrow)

          4. Capture the Erymanthian Boar (A giant, fear-inspiring boar)

          5. Clean the Augean stables in a single day

          6. Slay the Stymphalian Birds (Man-eating birds with beaks of bronze with sharp metallic feathers they could launch at their victims)

          7. Capture the Cretan Bull (A magical, snow-white bull)

          8. Steal the Mares of Diomedes (They were four man-eating horses)

          9. Obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (A magical girdle she was given by her father Ares, the God of War)

          10. Obtain the cattle of the monster Geryon (A fearsome giant)

          11. Steal the apples of the Hesperides (The Garden of the Hesperides was the Goddess Hera’s orchard, which produced golden apples that granted immortality when eaten)

          12. Capture and bring back Cerberus (A three-headed hound that was the Guardian of the Gates of the Underworld).

          According to the Odes of the poet Pindar, it was after performing the fifth task of labour (to clean the stables of King Augeas) that Heracles set up the Olympic Games. This fifth task was meant to be both humiliating and impossible. King Augeas’ stable had over 3000 oxen whose dung had not been cleaned for over 30 years. Heracles achieved this impossible task through another equally impossible feat— he diverted the flow of the river Alpheios (which ran along the southern side of Olympia) and cleansed the land.

          In celebration of successfully completing this task, Hercules made a clearing in the grove, fixed the distance of the original race (and, ultimately, the stadium) by placing one foot in front of the other six hundred times, and instituted a competition so that all men could come and display how strong and quick they were. He called this competition the Olympic Games and dedicated them to his father, Zeus. Legend also has it that he planted the sacred olive tree that was later the source of crowns for the Olympic victors.

          These ancient games, unlike their modern version, were more like religious festivals than sporting events. While there were running, wrestling and throwing events, the games were dominated by the praying and sacrificing that was done to honour Zeus. This fact eventually led to their demise. In 391 AD, Emperor Theodosius abolished the games as he was a devout Christian and objected to the games which honoured a pagan God, Zeus.

          Centuries later, in 1896, Baron Pierre de Coubertin visited the ancient ruins of Olympia and decided to resurrect the games to build character physical, strength and courage amongst the youth. Thus, the world was reintroduced to the Olympic Games.


          Ancient Connection

          The Mediterranean and its regions have much in common in games and sports. In ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, athletic scenes are depicted in the tombs of kings and their nobles, but there is no evidence of regular competitions. However, the Minoans had chariot races in religious and funeral ceremonies, and the Mycenaeans adopted the Minoan sports traditions, which included gymnastics, jumping, running, wrestling, and boxing.

          Homer’s characters constantly participate in athletic competitions in honor of the dead. “The Iliad” has chariot races, boxing, wrestling, as well as fencing, archery and javelin throwing, and the Odyssey adds a long jump and diskos/disc throw.

          According to Aristotle, the first Olympic Games were in 776 BC, and archaeological finds confirm the approximate period around the 8th century BC, as a real start to this sports tradition.

          Relief depicting a struggle, the tomb of Ptahotep (25-24 century BC)


          Greek Gods and the Olympics: From Myth to Reality

          When we explore the birth of the Olympic games we come across several foundational legends that are embedded in myth, naturally Zeus sits in the epicenter of it all, but on the outer rims we are introduced to the heroes that contributed to the Olympic spirit and formation. Having said all this we cannot however, form one general assumption on the mythological beginning and history of the games, because evidence stems from more than one stratum. It is wise to commence with the early myths and work our way forward in order to establish how the Gods might have contributed to the very fundamentals that constituted the onset of the Olympic games. Bear in mind that the Greek myths were a shifting paradigm, one that moved fluidly with the ideologies of the Ancient Greeks.

          GREECE – CIRCA 1960: A stamp printed in Greece from the “Olympic Games, Rome” issue shows sprinting, circa 1960. (Image purchased from Shutterstock)

          In the 13 th Century BCE on the hill of Kronus, the early immigrants made sacrifices at the altar of Gaia and preformed rituals in honour of the goddess. Festivals were held in honor of the fertility goddess because the people believed that land its self was connected to the gods and goddesses and everything around them arose directly from the gods.

          In the 12 th Century BCE, the Achaeans arrived from the north and laid claim to the area then the worship of the goddesses disappeared and in their place the great Olympian father, Zeus was instituted. One myth tells the story of how Zeus cast a thunderbolt and it landed at Olympia, and there where the bolt scorched the earth, a temple was erected to honor him.

          The Ancient authors that have gifted us with their literary works wrote their accounts many centuries after the commencement of the Olympic games. One of the Western Canonical poets Pindar, attributes the foundation of the games to the legend of Hercules. The myth goes a little something like this one of Heracles labors was to clean the stables of Augeas which where never cleaned and several feet deep in animal dung. So Hercules bargained with Augeas that if he should clean the stables in a day he would receive a tenth of Augeas cattle. Augeas agreed, believing that it would be unmanageable. Hercules accomplished his task by diverting a near by river through the stables. Augeas refused to pay Hercules, so he killed Augeas and his sons and took all the spoils to Pisa. There he carved a sacred precedent in honour of his father Zeus. The best items from the picking were offered as dedications to Zeus and hence the birth of the Olympic games commenced. Whilst this is not the only version of a foundational myth, it does claim more popularity than some of the more gruesome myths.

          Athletics were an integral part of Greek society and all that it encompassed because it was an act of worship, by participating the athletes were honoring the gods. Religion was the focus of the games and the most important part was the sacrifice, which took place on day three of the festival. A procession would walk through Olympia and to the temple of Zeus where a multitude of oxen would be sacrificed. In the evening they would burn the oxen as offerings to the god Zeus, this was followed by a banquet for all the attendees. The games ran for five days and included boxing, wrestling, discuss and running. These games were a competition of greatness. There was no second or third status, only the position of one victor. To succeed meant that brutality was a given in the process but not without structure and rules. Winning was everything because the victor received more than the olive wreath upon his head. The winner would be seen as a demi-god. The victor’s home city would bestow on the winner honours fit for a king, a life time pension, olive oil supplies, seats at the theater and many other privileges including that of a priesthood if the victor desired it.

          The olive wreath also known as kotinos was the prize for the winner at the ancient Olympic Games. (Image purchased from Shutterstock)

          To illuminate how the Ancient Greeks saw and participated in the Olympic games we must understand that they were an extremely competitive society, who were driven by excellence and there was no room for second best. The Olympic games were one of the oldest Greek festivals, people travelled from every corner of the Ancient world to participate in a five-day event that showcased sporting brilliance.

          The modern day Olympics also brings together Athletes and people from all over the globe. For the duration of the games people cheer each other on in good spirit and support. The Ancient and modern athlete share one thing in common they are both worshiped as something divine, with the distinction being the ancient athlete was given a wreath and material provisions and the modern is awarded with a gold medal and sponsorship. There is an un-doubtable echo that the victors today are also seen as sporting demi-gods.


          What were the ancient Olympics like? Take a visit to the Games of 436 BC

          Your fellow spectators will have travelled from all over the Mediterranean basin, so be prepared to encounter heavy traffic (and expect delays) on your way to Olympia. Around 50,000 people will be making their way to the site – which, being a religious sanctuary rather than a fully functioning city, offers little in the way of infrastructure. Many revellers will be forced to travel through warzones and rival Greek states to reach Olympia. While the Olympic truce is theoretically in place for the duration of the Games, ongoing battles may well not be suspended in certain areas and regions. This means there’s a reasonable chance of encountering fighting as you make your way to the Games, so take the utmost care while travelling. And remember: no married women will be permitted to enter Olympia during the Games. It’s men and unmarried women only!

          Did you know?

          A married woman named Kallipateira disguised herself as a man to watch her son, Peisirodos, in action at the Games. She accidentally revealed her gender when she hopped over the barrier after he won his bout.

          Where to stay?

          Unfortunately, Olympia currently only boasts a single hotel – the Leonidaion – which, while being beyond the budget of most Olympic spectators, also tends to reserve its rooms for dignitaries and officials. The hiring of tents and canvas pavilions is possible, but again these prove very popular, as well as being rather costly. Most spectators bring their own tents to camp in, but there are also plenty who chance their arm and try to find comfortable patches of ground to lay their heads on, sleeping under the stars.

          What to eat?

          All manner of food is available in the grounds outside the stadium and the hippodrome, but beware of unscrupulous vendors who can charge extortionate prices. Make sure you bring enough disposable cash with you to avoid going hungry.

          That being said, do leave some room in your stomach for the third day of the Games, when a hundred oxen are traditionally sacrificed as an offering to the god of sky and thunder, Zeus. This day – scheduled around the full moon – effectively becomes a mass barbecue. Although some of the meat is reserved for Zeus, the rest is distributed among the 50,000 spectators, and no one goes hungry.

          What to see? 5 days at the Ancient Olympics

          Of course, no one comes to the Games for the accommodation or the catering: everyone is here for the sports! So when and where can you see all your favourite events?

          DAY ONE

          The first day is largely a ceremonial occasion. It’s the time when the athletes make their first appearances, chiefly to take the oaths that demand they respect the rules – a tradition that has ensured the Games is the finest multi-sport event across the known world. And it’s not just the athletes swearing their allegiance to fair play: the judges also have to pledge to keep the event free of corruption.

          Once all the oaths have been sworn, contests are then held to decide which trumpet players will have the honour of serenading the Games. Then it’s time to decide who the heralds will be – that is, the people who will announce the athletes’ names and act as starters for each race and fight.

          DAY TWO

          Over in the hippodrome, the ever-popular equestrian sports kick off the day’s proceedings. There are all manner of events, including the quadriga (a thrilling, high-velocity race where four horses pull each chariot), mounted horse races and chariot races for younger horses. But remember: however skilful the chariot drivers or jockeys show themselves to be, the real winners are the owners of the horses. After all, they’re the ones who are presented with the winners’ spoils.

          In the afternoon, the famed pentathlon takes place in the stadium – the ultimate measure of an athlete’s fitness, physique and sporting ability. Over the span of a few hours, competitors take on five different events: discus, long jump, javelin, running and wrestling. And whoever is crowned champion will hold on to their title for the next four years.

          DAY THREE

          This is effectively a day of rest and general merriment, with no sporting events taking place. Instead, the sacrifice of a hundred oxen is the main item on the agenda – or should that be menu? Timed around the full moon, some of the oxen meat is offered to Zeus, while the remainder is shared by all those attending.

          DAY FOUR

          Today, the various foot races get underway in the stadium. The stadion race is one of the more explosive, and thus most popular, events: an intense sprint held over a single length of the stadium – a distance of approximately 192 metres. Will Krison, the pride of Himera, win a fourth crown in what’s likely to be his final Olympiad, or will Theopompos from Thessaly take between seven and 24 laps of the stadium). Another of the more popular events is the race in armour, where athletes race against one another while carrying shields and wearing helmets and greaves.

          After lunch, the combat sports take place. These include boxing and wrestling, as well as pankration – an event that’s close to a combination of the two. The crowds are always large for these events, so make sure to arrive early to get the best vantage point. But those of a delicate constitution should be warned: these events are not for the squeamish. The pankration is particularly brutal, with very few rules getting in the way of the competitors. The only restrictions are that fighters mustn’t bite their opponents, gouge their eyes, stick fingers up their nose or aim for the genitals. Other than that, anything goes!

          DAY FIVE

          The final day of the Games gives all those present the opportunity to salute the champions by showering them with applause. The winner of each event is presented with the taeria (the red woollen ribbon that denotes an Olympic champion), and they are also crowned with a ceremonial wreath of olive leaves.

          The remainder of the day is devoted to celebrating the displays of sporting endeavour and glory that attendees have witnessed over the past few days. The Games’ winners are invited to an exclusive banquet that’s also attended by all the judges, as well as assorted politicians and dignitaries.

          Top tips for survival at the ancient Olympics

          The Games take place in high summer, making heatstroke a very real prospect for all attendees. It’s crucial, then, that you rehydrate as much as possible while at Olympia to avoid becoming seriously ill. But owing to the RIver Kladeos’s low levels, drinking water is at a premium. It’s hoped that an aqueduct and a fountain will be constructed at some point in the future to provide fresh drinking water to Olympia. For now, though, it’s just the resinated wine that flows fast.

          Shade around Olympia is also hard to come by, so if you do manage to find space under the leaves of one of the olive trees around the site (from which the winning athletes’ garlands are fashioned), try to stay in situ for as long as possible. Even without the scorching temperatures and lack of liquid refreshments, standing upright for as much as 16 hours a day to watch the action can also take its toll. Very few seats can be found in the stadium, and those that do exist are the preserve of dignitaries and politicians. Instead, you can maximise your general wellbeing by taking the weight off your legs from time to time and sitting on any available patch of ground.

          What to watch out for?

          The camping grounds outside the stadium are crammed with opportunistic people who want to get their hands on your cash. Aside from the pickpockets that any 50,000-strong gathering will attract, also be wary of fortune tellers, astrologers and sex workers, who all desire the contents of your purse.

          On a more positive note, there are some incredible sights that the Games have to offer. For a few days, Olympia is transformed. Inscriptions in the stone bases of the Zanes of Olympia publicly shamed those who had been caught cheating into a temporary city where you can watch beauty contests, marvel at fire eaters, be dazzled by jugglers and indulge in luxurious treatments from masseurs.

          There’s an abundance of delights to hear, too. In the camping grounds, poets recite verses for enraptured listeners, politicians give speeches, philosophers share their teachings and historians are on hand to inform and educate. In fact, Herodotus – the author of The Histories, and arguably the period’s most famous historian – can often be found giving impromptu lectures from the back porch of one of Olympia’s famous temples.

          Sadly, your nose won’t get treated quite so well. With the River Kladeos being so low at this time of year, there are no opportunities to bathe during the festivities. This – combined with high temperatures and tens of thousands of spectators temporarily living in close proximity to one another – means that Olympia may take quite a toll on your sense of smell. You have been warned!

          Although the judges didn’t have any sophisticated technologies at their disposal to catch those bending the rules, they were extremely strict – and they could be merciless and brutal in the punishments they administered. Take the judges overseeing the foot races, for instance, who dished out corporal punishment as a way to keep competitors on the straight and narrow. Even for comparatively slight misdemeanours, such as committing a false start, they weren’t averse to striking any guilty runners with whips during races – and bear in mind that athletes were naked in many events.

          Such measures were necessary to deter cheating, which wasn’t uncommon. In the boxing competitions, for instance, there were several notable cases of boxers taking bribes and deliberately losing their bouts. There were other ways of naming and shaming miscreants, too. Fines were dished out for the more serious offences, with the money raised funding the construction of the Zanes of Olympia, a series of bronze statues of Zeus. The plinths that these statues stood on were inscribed with the names of the fine-paying cheats – a permanent reminder of their crimes. The statues were located along a passageway that took competitors into the stadium, offering a cautionary lesson to anyone who hoped to gain an unfair advantage.

          Nige Tassell is a freelance journalist specialising in history. The 2020 Olympics were delayed due to the coronavirus and are current due to take place 23 July to 8 August 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. You can follow the action and the latest news at BBC Sport


          Ending with a whimper not a bang

          Ultimately, the blame for ending the Olympic Games was laid at the feet of Theodosius I because it was difficult for people to believe that the festival – a defining cultural symbol of antiquity – simply fizzled out after more than a thousand years. The conflict between paganism and Christianity in the later Roman empire became an easy way of explaining the end of this great athletic contest.

          By the time de Coubertin came to revive the Olympics in the 19th century, this story was set in stone. In restaging the games in a modern world, he drew inspiration from the athleticism of the Classical Greeks, but left the pagan rituals of the ancient world far behind.

          Top image: A Greek amphora showing athletes, 4th century BC. ©Trustees of the British Museum. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)


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