776 B.C.-A.D. 394
In 776 B.C. the early Olympic Games began in ancient Greece. The Games were so important to the Greek people, that they used periods in between the Games as a method of dating important historical events. The prize the winners received included free food and lodging for life. Winners were mentioned in poems, their figures set in sculpture, and their achievements known throughout Greece. To put it simply, winning the Olympic games made you a hero.
Even being at the Games was an honor. People from Italy, Sicily, Asia, Africa, and Spain all made the long journey to Olympia. All the famous people of the time attended the Games. The sculptor Phidias, who made the enormous statues of Zeus and Athena in Greece, Pindar, the poet, and the historian Herodotus all came to witness the competition.
Olympia was chosen as sight of the Games because it was recognized as a neutral area. It had been the most sacred place for the worship of Zeus, the supreme god in the Greek pantheon. Another factor was that it possessed a beautiful green valley and was accessed by two rivers, somewhat hard to find anywhere else in Greece. It was here, in Olympia, that the wild olive tree grew, and from these came the infamous olive wreath, called the Crown Olive. The Crown Olive was the most coveted, and only, prize won at Olympia. One Persian leader questioned, "What sort of men have you led us to fight against, who contend not for money but purely for the sake of excelling?"
Originally there was only one race, a sprint, and the prize for the winner was an olive wreath. As time went on, other races were added, as were other sports, including boxing and wrestling. Among the more unusual events were the race in armor and the apene race, in which a chariot was pulled not by horses, but by mules. Prizes became more elaborate, and there were even cases of bribery, corruption and boycotts.