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The Olympic Games ( - ta Olympia; - Olympiakoi Agones) were a series of athletic competitions held for representatives of various city-states of Ancient Greece. Records indicate that they began in 776 BC in Olympiamarker, Greece. They were celebrated until 393 AD. when an earthquake destroyed Olympia The Games were usually held every four years, or olympiad, as the unit of time came to be known. During a celebration of the Games, an Olympic Truce was enacted to enable athletes to travel from their countries to Olympia in safety. The prizes for the victors were laurel wreaths, palm branches, sometimes even food for life. The ancient Olympics were rather different from the modern Games. There were fewer events, and only free men who spoke Greek could compete (even though a woman is also mentioned as a winner). Athletes from any country or city (famous athletes from as far as Rome and Armenia are mentioned) were allowed to participate. The Games were always held at Olympia, as with the Cotswold Olimpick Games, instead of moving around to different places for each separate Olympic festival as is the case in the modern Olympics.

Origins

The origins of the Ancient Olympic Games are unknown, but legends and myths have survived. One myth about the festival at Olympia involved Pelops, king of Olympiamarker and eponymous hero of the Peloponnesusmarker, to whom offerings were made during the Games. The Christian writer Clement of Alexandria asserted, "[The] Olympian games are nothing else than the funeral sacrifices of Pelops." That myth tells of how Pelops overcame the king and won the hand of his daughter Hippodamia so that he could become king, with the help of Poseidon, his old lover. This is a myth linked to the later fall of the house of Atreus and the sufferings of Oedipus. Another myth tells of the hero Hercules, or Herakles, who won a race at Olympia and then decreed that the race should be re-enacted every four years. Yet another myth claims that Zeus initiated the festival after his defeat of his predecessor, the Titan Cronus. Some people state that the Greeks believed that the gods enjoyed watching sporting events. These games also served as a way to ready men for battle with skills like running, wrestling, throwing the javelin for accuracy, and throwing the discus for distance.

Another myth tells of King Iphitos of Elis, who consulted Pythia, the Oracle at Delphimarker, to find a way to save his people from war in the ninth century BC. This was the most respected temple in Greece, a religious center originally founded for the worship of Python. The prophetess advised him to organize games in honour of the deities. The Spartanmarker adversary of Iphitos then decided to stop fighting during these games. They were called Olympic Games, after the sanctuary of Olympia where they were held. Had they been named after Mount Olympusmarker, the mountain on which the Greek deities were said to live, they would have been called Olympian games rather than Olympic. The Classical era story is that Heracles celebrated cleaning the Augean Stables by building Olympia with help from Athena.

History

The 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.

The games started in Olympia, Greece, in a sanctuary site for the Greek deities near the towns of Elis and Pisa (both in Elis on the peninsula of Peloponnesosmarker). The first Games began as an annual foot race of young women in competition for the position of the priestess for the goddess, Hera and a second race was instituted for a consort for the priestess who would participate in the religious traditions at the temple.

The Heraea Games, the first recorded competition for women in the Olympic Stadium, were held as early as the sixth century BC. It originally consisted of foot races only, as did the competition for males. Some texts, including Pausanias's Description of Greece, c. AD 175, state that Hippodameia gathered a group known as the "Sixteen Women" and made them administrators of the Heraea Games, out of gratitude for her marriage to Pelops. Other texts related to the Elis and Pisa conflict indicate that the "Sixteen Women" were peacemakers from Pisa and Elis and, because of their political competence, became administrators of the Heraea Games.

Being the consort of Hera in Classical Greek mythology, Zeus was the father of the deities in the pantheon of that era. The Sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia housed a 13-metre-high statue in ivory and gold of Zeusmarker that had been sculpted by Phidias circa 445 BC. This statue was one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World. By the time of the Classical Greek culture, in the fifth and fourth centuries BC, the games were restricted to male participants.

The historian Ephorus, who lived in the fourth century BC, is believed to have established the use of Olympiads to count years. The Olympic Games were held at four-year intervals, and later, the Greek method of counting the years even referred to these Games, using the term Olympiad for the period between two Games. Previously, every Greek state used its own dating system, something that continued for local events, 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) 786 BC for the first year of the first Olympiad. Nevertheless, there is disagreement among scholars as to when the Games began.

The "Exedra" reserved for the judges at Olympia on the north embankment of the stadium
The only competition held then was, according to the later Greek traveller Pausanias who wrote in 175 A.D., the stadion race, a race over about 190 metres, measured after the feet of Hercules. The word stadium is derived from this foot race.

The Greek tradition of athletic nudity was introduced in 720 BC, either by the Spartans or by the Megarian Orsippus, and this was adopted early in the Olympics as well.

Several groups fought over control of the sanctuary at Olympus, and hence the Games, for prestige and political advantage. Pausanias later writes that in 668 BC, Pheidon of Argosmarker 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.

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.

Finally, the Olympic Games were suppressed, either by Theodosius I in AD 393 or his grandson Theodosius II in AD 435, as part of the campaign to impose Christianity as a state religion. The site of Olympia remained until an earthquake destroyed it in the sixth century AD.

Olympic truce

During the Olympic Games, a truce, or ekecheiriam was observed. Three runners, known as spondophoroim were sent from Elis to the participant cities at each set of games to announce the beginning of the truce. During this period, armies were forbidden from entering Olympia, wars were suspended, and legal disputes and the use of the death penalty were forbidden. The truce was primarily designed to allow athletes and visitors to travel safely to the Games and was, for the most part, observed. Thucydides wrote of a situation when the Spartansmarker were forbidden from attending the Games, and the violators of the truce were fined 200,000 drachmas 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.

Events

Athletes running the hoplitodromos
Only free men who spoke Greek were allowed to participate in the Ancient Games of classical times. They were to some extent "international", though, in the sense that they included athletes from the various Greek city-states. Additionally, participants eventually came from Greek colonies as well, extending the range of the games to far shores of the Mediterraneanmarker and of the Black Seamarker.

To be in the Games, the athletes had to qualify and have their names written in the lists. It seems that only young people were allowed to participate, as the Greek writer Plutarch relates that one young man was rejected for seeming overmature, and only after his lover interceded with the King of Sparta, who presumably vouched for his youth, was he permitted to participate. Before being able to participate, every participant had to take an oath in front of the statue of Zeus, saying that he had been in training for ten months.

At first, the Olympic Games lasted only one day, but eventually grew to five days. The Olympic Games originally contained one event: the stadion (or "stade") race, a short sprint measuring between 180 and 240 metres, or the length of the stadium. The length of the race is uncertain, since tracks found at archeological sites, as well as literary evidence, provide conflicting measurements. Runners had to pass five stakes that divided the lanes: one stake at the start, another at the finish, and three stakes in between.

A section of the stone starting line at Olympia, which has a groove for each foot


The diaulos, or two-stade race, was introduced in 724 BC, during the 14th Olympic games. The race was a single lap of the stadium, approximately 400 metres, and scholars debate whether or not the runners had individual "turning" posts for the return leg of the race, or whether all the runners approached a common post, turned, and then raced back to the starting line.

A third foot race, the dolichos, was introduced in 720 BC. Accounts of the race present conflicting evidence as to the length of the dolichos; however, the length of the race was 18-24 laps, or about three miles (5 km). The event was run similarly to modern marathons—the runners would begin and end their event in the stadium proper, but the race course would wind its way through the Olympic grounds. The course often would flank important shrines and statues in the sanctuary, passing by the Nike statue by the temple of Zeus before returning to the stadium.

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 Olympic Games. The runners would run either a single or double diaulos (approximately 400 or 800 yards) in full or partial armour, carrying a shield and additionally equipped either with greaves or a helmet. As the armour weighed between 50 and , the hoplitodromos emulated the speed and stamina needed for warfare. Due to the weight of the armour, it was easy for runners to drop their shields or trip over fallen competitors. In a vase painting depicting the event, some runners are shown leaping over fallen shields. The course they used for these runs were made out of clay, with sand over the clay.

Over the years, more events were added: boxing (pygme/pygmachia), wrestling (pale), a very bloody pankration (regulated full-contact fighting, similar to today's mixed martial arts), chariot racing, and several other running events (the diaulos, hippios, dolichos, and hoplitodromos), as well as a pentathlon, consisting of wrestling, stadion, long jump, javelin throw, and discus throw (the latter three were not separate events).

Boxing became increasingly brutal over the centuries. Initially, soft leather covered their fingers, but eventually, hard leather weighted with metal sometimes was used. The fights had no rest periods and no rules against hitting a man while he was down. Bouts continued until one man either surrendered or died- however, killing an opponent wasn't a good thing, as the dead boxer was automatically declared the winner.

In the chariot racing event, it was not the rider, but the owner of the chariot and team who was considered to be the competitor, so one owner could win more than one of the top spots. The addition of events meant the festival grew from one day to five days, three of which were used for competition. The other two days were dedicated to religious rituals. On the final day, there was a banquet for all the participants, consisting of 100 oxen that had been sacrificed to Zeus on the first day.

The winner of an Olympic event was awarded an olive branch and often was received with much honour throughout Greece, especially in his home town, where he was often granted large sums of money (in Athens, 500 drachma, a small fortune) and prizes including vats of olive oil. (See Milo of Croton.) Sculptors would create statues of Olympic victors, and poets would sing odes in their praise for money.

Archaeologists believe that wars were halted between the city-states of Greece so that the athletes as well as the spectators of the Olympics could get there safely. However, some archaeologists argue that the wars were not halted, but that the athletes who were in the army were allowed to leave and participate in the Olympics.

Participation in the classical games was limited to male athletes except for women who were allowed to take part by entering horses in the equestrian events. In 396 BC, and again in 392 BC, the horses of a Spartanmarker princess named Cynisca won her the four-horse race. It is thought that single women (not betrothed or married) were allowed to watch the races. Also priestesses in the temple of Zeus who lit the candles were permitted.

The athletes usually competed naked, not only as the weather was appropriate, but also as the festival was meant to celebrate, in part, the achievements of the human body. Olive oil was occasionally used by the competitors, not only to keep skin smooth, but also to provide an appealing look for the participants. Competitors may have worn a kynodesme to restrain the penis.

Famous athletes

Bases of Zanes, paid for by fines from those who cheated at the Games


Festivals in other places

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 Antiochmarker, 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.

See also



Notes

  1. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/Olympics
  2. Pausanias: v. 16. 2
  3. Pindar: Pythian Odes ix
  4. "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.
  5. 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." 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 5th century BC.
  6. Kotynski, p.3. For more information about the question of this date, see Kotynski.
  7. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War. London, J. M. Dent; New York, E. P. Dutton (1910)
  8. .
  9. Ageladas
  10. Tiberius, AD 1 or earlier - cf. Ehrenberg & Jones, Documents Illustrating the Reigns of Augustus and Tiberius [Oxford 1955] p. 73 (n.78)
  11. 369 according to Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece by Nigel Wilson, 2006, Routledge (UK) or 385 according to Classical Weekly by Classical Association of the Atlantic States
  12. William Smith, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, 1875 - ancientlibrary.com


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