courtesy and ©1996 The
Ancient Greek World
The Olympic Games called the Panhellenic Games were
first held in Olympia around 775 BC. No one knows why the games started. Here are a few
myths explaining why the first games were held:
- One legend says the games were started when Hercules
brought a sacred olive tree to Olympia.
- Another myth says the games started when Pelops
established a festival after defeating King Oenomaus in a chariot race.
- One myth says the games started when a cook named
Koroibos, from the nearby city of Elis, won the stadion race, a 600 foot long race.
- Others say the Olympic Games were first held as part
of a religious festival honoring Zeus.
The Olympic games were open to all city-states.
Anyone who was a free man could participate. Men as far away as Spain and Turkey also came
to the games. The games had few rules. Women were forbidden to attend the games.
The games were held every four years at four
- Olympia - Zeus honored
- Nemean Gamea at Nemea (in southern Greece) - Zeus
- Isthmian Games at Isthmia in Corinth - Poseidon
- Pythian Games at Delphi - Apollo honored
The city-states would stop fighting each other to go
to the games. The Olympic games lasted for one week. The first day of the event ceremonies
and sacrifices took place. On the closing day a victory banquet for the winning athletes
and a procession was held.
In the fifth century B. C. there were eight events
for adults and three for children. All events were competed as individuals and not as a
member of a city-state. If anyone was caught cheating he was heavily fined. The fines went
to building statues to the god Zeus. A total of sixteen statues were built.
The champions were rewarded with simple crowns made
- Olympia - crown of olive leaves
- Nemea - crown of parsley
- Isthmia - crown of pine
- Delphi - crown of laurel
foot races: stadion, diaulos, and dolichos) - one length - adults and children
two lengths - adults
The shortest race in the ancient Olympics was about 200 yards. The Greeks called this
distance the stade. The runners began in a standing position. They raced in straight lines
to the opposite end of the stadium. The finish line was marked by upright posts in the
This event was a foot race with the contestants wearing full armor that weighed
about 50 pounds. Later the racers wore only a helmet and carried a shield.
Pugme (Boxing) - adults
Boxing had no rounds. The contestants boxed until they were either knocked out or admitted
defeat. There were no weight classes. The boxers wore pieces of leather tied around their
hands and wrists leaving their fingers free. These were called himantes.
- adults and children
Another original event of the ancient games was wrestling. Two contestants began in a
standing position and wrestled until one gave up. Biting was not allowed, but it was
acceptable to break your opponent's fingers.
Pankration was a combination of boxing and wrestling. In this sport throwing your opponent
to the ground gave a wrestler one point. The match was over when one wrestler scored three
points. Greeks did not have weight classes. The only rules were that the contestants could
not bite or puncture the eyes, nose, or mouth with fingernails.
included the long jump, discus and javelin throwing, running, and wrestling - adults
In the ancient games the runway for the long jump was very short. A jump was disqualified
if you did not land entirely and only on your feet. The Greeks held small weights in their
hands called halteres. These weights helped the contestants to jump farther.
Ancient Olympians used a discus made of metal or stone. It weighed from 5 to 8 pounds.
Many contestants engraved messages on their discus. The contestants did not spin like they
do in today's competition. The thrower faced one direction. He swung the discus back and
forth and then took one step forward to throw.
To throw the javelin two fingers went through a leather strip wrapped around the javelin's
shaft. This helped the contestant rotate the javelin as it was being released.
The horse racing took place in a large arena called the hippodrome. The riders usually
raced 1200 meters.
|Four-horse Chariot Races
Only the wealthy could afford to compete in this event which required maintaining the
chariot. The racers competed in various courses going by a number of obstacles.
courtesy and ©1996 The
Ancient Greek World
||The Ancient Olympics were held from 776
B. C. to 393 A. D. They were stopped by Theodosius I. After this no Olympic events were
held for 1503 years until the Baron Pierre de Coubertin suggested they be started up again
in 1896. Thirty-four countries became involved with the idea and convinced Baron de
Coubertin to hold the event in Athens, Greece.
We held our
own Classroom Olympics.