Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece: The Ancient Greek Olympics

Rating: 2 votes, 4.50 average.
The first ancient Greek Olympics at Olympia were sacred to Greek religion. Later, they evolved into competitions where winning not competing was important

The first Olympic Games were held in the Greek Peloponnese, one of a set of four Pan-Hellenic competitions which united all of the Greek city states. Held in the sacred sanctuary of Olympia, they were originally games dedicated to the honor of the god Zeus.

With the growth of Greek power and conflict, the nature of the games changed and they became competitions celebrating the attributes essential to Greek warfare-strength, endurance and the drive to win.

The First Olympics

Greek mythology has two versions of the foundation of the ancient Olympics. The first states the games were based around king Pelopís victory against Oenomaus in a chariot race. The alternative myth claims the games were founded by Heracles.

History provides a date of 776BC as the beginning of the games, based on the surviving lists of victors. By the fifth century BC, the Olympics lasted for five days and were held every four years thereafter, a cycle known as an Olympiad.

Although victories ceased to be recorded in 217AD, it was not until 393AD that the games were abolished by the Emperor Theodosius.

Ancient Greek Religion and the Olympian Games

The games were held in the sacred sanctuary of Olympia, close to the city of Elis in the western Peloponnese. They were one of the four Pan-Hellenic contests that occurred in ancient Greece, the others being the Pythian, Nemean and Isthmian games.

The games were held in either August or September in honour ofthe god Zeus. They began with a procession from Elis to the sacred precinct of Zeus, the Altis. Here, a religious ceremony opened the proceedings with a sacrifice made to the king of the gods before the athletes and officials solemnly swore to abide by the rules of the games.

Then the games began. They consisted not only of athletics contests but also artistic performances, all dedicated to the honor of the god.

Their main emphasis remained religious until the fifth century BC when they became more a source of entertainment and competition between the elite of the Greek states.Although Zeus was still honoured,the religious ceremonies ceased to be the focal point, often occurring after equestrian events had begun rather than opening the contest.

Athletic Contests in Classical Greece

The ethos of the ancient Olympics was very different to the modern games. The aim was to win- with skill and at any cost for the honour of the individual and their city. The events placed the emphasis on combat and warfare, rather than team events and records. This was because the skills on show were practical ones that could be employed in wartime, rather than mere sports

To modern eyes, the games would not have been sportsman like. Competitors were allowed to break fingers, kick opponents in the stomach and dislocate limbs although there were some rules that disallowed gouging and biting.

Ancient Greek Olympic Sports

The original Olympic sport was a 200m sprint called the stadion, which gave its name tothe venue for track events. Between the eight and fifth centuries BC, the range of events broadened. Many of these events are familiar in the modern games. They included:

- Chariot racing and horseracing
- The pentathlon
- Wrestling
- Boxing

Other events were unique to the ancient Olympics:

- The Pankration. This was a violent hybrid of boxing and wrestling where competitors were allowed to kick, twist and strangle their opponents in order to win.
- The diaulos and the dolichos. Both were foot races. The dolichos involved completing twelve laps.
- The race in arms. Introduced in the sixth century BC, this race above others emphasises the warlike nature of the games. Involving a foot race in full armor, it related specifically to exercises that occurred in ancient Greek military training.

Men and Women at the Greek Olympics

The Olympics consisted of separate events for men and boys. Women could not compete at Zeusís games but did have their own separate contest at Olympia, the Heraea which was dedicated to the goddess Hera.

Married women were forbidden to watch the male games on pain of death. Curiously, unmarried girls were allowed to watch the men compete- possibly because the games were viewed as a good place to make a marriage.
Tags: greece