The Ancient Olympic Games

What are the ancient Olympic Games?

The ancient Olympic Games were a five day festival which was consisted of athletic competitions and religious practices. They were held every four years, between late summer to early fall; precisely August 6th to September 16th. According to recorded history, the first Games occurred in the year 776 B.C. but it is more than likely many more were hosted before this date.

The Location of the Olympic Games

The Olympic Games were held in the valley of Olympia, located on the west coast of the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece. The athletic competitions took place in various venues, depending on the sport. Arenas were used for combative sports, stadiums for footraces, and hippodromes for chariot and horseback races. Religious rituals were done in temples and on altars.

The enterance of the Stadium at Olympia, Greece

The Purpose of the Olympics

Aside from the Greeks' love for competitions of numerous kinds, the Olympics were much more than just a compilation of sporting events. They were a vital religious festival. The Games were celebrated in honour of Zeus, the king of the Olympian Gods that were believed in at the time. Attending the Olympic Games was viewed and felt more like a sacred pilgrimage rather than travelling for the sake of entertainment.

A painting of the collosal Statue of Zeus which once stood in the Stadium at Olympia

The Events

Athletes from all over Greece vied against each other in different sporting events to be victorious. They included:

  • footraces
  • discus throwing
  • boxing
  • chariot and horse races
  • wrestling
  • pankration (a brutal combative sport with very little rules)
  • jumping
  • pentathlon (a combination of five sports - discus, wrestling, javelin, jumping, and running)

The religious aspects of the Games were sacrifices and prayers made to Zeus as well as the consultation of prophetic oracles. The reason for these events was that the Greeks loved to take part in sports and they honoured Zeus as he was the chief of the rest of the Olympian gods, deeming him an important deity. In addition, winning the competitions bestowed great prizes on the athlete - permission to build statues of themselves in the sanctuary of Zeus, crowns made of wild olive branches, and most of all, fame and prestige.

The Celebrators

The Olympic Games were celebrated by the athletes, the audience who cheered them on, and the friends and family of the athletes. Anyone could compete in the Olympics as long as they were male and a Greek citizen. Women were prohibited from participating in the sporting events but had an athletic festival designated especially for them which was named the Heraean Games. The Heraean Games were created to honour Hera, the queen of the Olympian Gods, and also took place in Olympia. As for spectating the Olympic Games, only unmarried women were allowed into the audience.

My Experience with the Olympic Games

I have never seen or been a part of any adaptations of the original ancient Olympic Games but I have read about them in history books in the past. However, I do passionately watch the modern take of the Olympic Games whenever they are on television.

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