Quick Intro: Ancient Olympics
The Ancient Olympics were the start of something bigger than anyone could ever have imagined. They began as a way for the Greeks to honor the king of their gods, Zeus. The Olympics showed their wish for peace in a time when many Greek cities waged constant war with each other.
Many myths surround the beginning of the Ancient Olympics. They make it hard to positively date when the Games began. One myth says the guardians of the infant Zeus ran the first Olympic footrace. The other says Zeus himself started the Olympic Games to celebrate his defeat of his father, Cronos, for control of the world. Regardless of what is believed, there are historical records existing that show names of many Ancient Olympic victors.
The oldest records for the Ancient Olympics found date to about 776 B.C. The records run from then to the third century A.D. The lists then become incomplete and stop completely by about 300 A.D., around the time of the rise of the Roman Empire when their emperors had adopted Christianity. The emperors didn't like the Olympics since they were held in honor of Zeus and the Games were seen by the Romans as a 'pagan ritual'. The Ancient Olympics were legally abolished in 393 by Emperor Theodosius I.
The Ancient Olympics and the festival surrounding them honored Zeus, the skills of men and the idea of fair competition. Participating athletes prayed to the gods for victory, and sacrifices were offered to the gods thanking them for success. A truce was called for the month leading up to and during the Games which enabled the athletes to travel safely to Olympia to train and compete. The competition was open to any free Greek men. Women couldn't enter other than as owners in the equestrian events. Married women couldn't even attend as spectators under penalty of death.
The truce insured that the athletes would not be needed at home. Armies couldn't enter Olympia or threaten the Games. All legal disputes and death penalties were put on hold. Cheating, other rule violations or breaking the truce led to fines. The money raised by the fines were used to erect statues of Zeus. Plaques were put on each one describing what the fines were for. This brought shame to anyone named there. Sometimes, the offence was bad enough that the athlete, or even entire cities, would be banned from competing at all.
The first Ancient Olympics had only a footrace, and the first events added were wrestling and pentathlon. Over time, other events were put in. The events tested athletes' strength, endurance, and speed. Before the Games were abolished, the events list included running, wrestling, boxing, chariot racing, horse riding and combination events. One, the Pankration, was a combination of boxing and wrestling. The biggest event was the pentathlon which had five separate sections: wrestling, racing, the discus throw, the javelin throw, and the long jump.
The ancient Greeks wanted to have athletes who were the best. To insure that, preliminary matches were held for every event. The winners of those were entered into the final competitions of the Ancient Olympics.
The victors of the different events were awarded in two ways. At the end of each event, one of the judges would announce the winner's name, hand him a palm branch, and tie red ribbons to his hands and head. Spectators would cheer for him and throw flowers out of the stands to him. The second awards came on the last day of the Games. An official award ceremony would take place at the temple of Zeus, on an elevated platform. A crown of olive leaves would be put on their heads. For each event, a herald announced the victor's name, their father's name and the name of their homelands.
Winning the Ancient Olympics was sought for more than just the olive leaf wreath. The victor was entitled to have a statue of himself made at Olympia. His success would increase his fame and the reputation of his community. He would be able to have anything he wanted at home, such as free meals and lodging.