Facts about Ancient Olympics
The ancient Olympic Games were started in the year 776 BC in honour of Zeus, the king of the Greek gods with only a foot race as its event. It was held at an interval of 4 years.
The ancient Olympics took place at the sanctuary of Olympia and its main stadium could house a huge number of people which are speculated to be up to 45000.
Another myth said that the Oracle prophesied that the king of Pisa, Oenomaus would be killed by the husband of her daughter, Hippodamia. So the king decreed that whoever wanted to marry his daughter would have to drive her away in a chariot which would be followed by the king in another chariot and if he caught up with them he would kill the suitor. The king’s chariot was supernaturally fast as it was a gift from Poseidon.
The daughter fell in love with Pelops and so before the race Pelops persuaded the king’s charioteer to replace the bronze axle pins of the king’s chariot with wax ones. So naturally when the race began, the wax melted killing the king in a fall from the chariot.
So Pelops organized the chariot races as funeral games in honor of the deceased king and also as a form of Thanksgiving to the gods so that he could be forgiven for his sins. The race was held at Olympia which inspired the beginnings of the ancient Olympic Games.
Another story refers to Heracles along with his friends racing at Olympia to entertain a baby Zeus and the winner were crowned with an olive wreath. The other gods are also said to have taken part in different sports like wrestling, jumping and running to have started the Games.
Other stories refer to the son of Zeus starting an athletic festival in order to honour his father, Zeus.
Only for Greeks
Unlike the modern Olympics, only Greeks were allowed to participate in the Olympics. It was a Panhellenic game rather than a worldwide game like we see today. Certain Romans were allowed after its capture by the Roman empire but most of the time, it maintained its Greek monopoly.
An Olympic Truce
No Games for Women
A Political tool
Only One Prize
We are accustomed to seeing three types of medals: Gold, silver and bronze being presented to the modern Olympic athletes for being in the top 3 of a particular event. But in the ancient games, only the winners were presented with an olive leaf crown to honour their victory.
Many events like boxing and wrestling were very violent and bloody. The ancient boxing event is said to have ended when one of the contestants was dead or had surrendered. Similarly in wrestling, violence and bloodshed were very common. A sporting event known as Pankration was a combination of boxing and wrestling and is known to be one of the most violent sporting events. Only biting and eye gouging is said to have been forbidden and nothing else.
Most people know that the Olympics Facts started out in Ancient Greece, but did you know that back then the athletes competed in the nude? (Though technically, they could wear penis restraints yes, you read that right). Or that one of the games was an ancient form of mixed martial arts? Or that a chef won the very first Olympic games?
Yes, that’s right ancient Olympic sportsmen (all men, by the way) ran, wrestled, and fought buck naked. The ancient Greeks had a tradition of doing things nude (they walked around in the buff in the bedroom and at parties called symposia*,
and they exercised without any clothes on) indeed, the word gymnasium came from the Greek word Gymos, which means naked. Why naked? Well, to appreciate and celebrate the male physique, of course, and as a tribute to the gods. Participants regularly anointed themselves with olive oil to enhance their looks and to keep the skin smooth!
In the sixth century, there was an actual attempt to make athletes wear loincloths, but this proved to be unpopular and soon afterward nudity regained its status as fashion in athletics.
*Great trivia for the next time you’re in a boring symposium: the original symposium is a nude drinking party (Sympotein is Greek for to drink together), complete with courtesans (basically sophisticated prostitutes).
A Summer Games
The last of the ancient Olympic games were held around 380 BC. The Olympics continued even after the Roman occupation but with rising natural disasters the site of Olympia had already gone into decline and it finally ended around the 4th century AD.
Games other than the Olympics
Those Greeks sure did love their sports! The Ancient Olympic Games were actually just a part of four sports festival called the Panhellenic Games:
The Olympic Games, the most important and prestigious game of them all, was held in honor of Zeus every four years near Elis.
Pythian Games was held every four years near Delphi in honor of Apollo
Nemean Games was held every two years near Nemea, in honor of Zeus
Isthmian Games was held every two years near Corinth, in honor of Poseidon