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A history of the Olympic Games from Ancient to Modern.
The ancient Olympic Games were primarily a part of a religious festival in honor of Zeus, the father of the Greek gods and goddesses. The festival and the games were held in Olympia (see 'Did you know' in the glossary), a rural sanctuary site (model shown here, courtesy of the British Museum) in the western Peloponnesos.
The Greeks that came to the Sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia shared the same religious beliefs and spoke the same language. The athletes were all male citizens of the city-states from every corner of the Greek world, coming from as far away as Iberia (Spain) in the west and the Black Sea (Turkey) in the east.
The sanctuary was named in antiquity after Mt. Olympos (see 'Did you know' in the glossary), the highest mountain in mainland Greece. In Greek mythology, Mt. Olympos was the home of the greatest of the Greek gods and goddesses.
The ancient Olympic Games began in the year 776 BC, when Koroibos, a cook from the nearby city of Elis, won the stadion race, a foot race 600 feet long. The stadion track at Olympia is shown here. According to some literary traditions, this was the only athletic event of the games for the first 13 Olympic festivals or until 724 BC. From 776 BC, the Games were held in Olympia every four years for almost 12 centuries.
Contrary evidence, both literary and archaeological, suggests that the games may have existed at Olympia much earlier than this date, perhaps as early as the 10th or 9th century BC.
What's that, you ask?
A series of bronze tripods have been found at Olympia, some of which may date to the 9th century BC, and it has been suggested that these tripods may in fact be prizes for some of the early events at Olympia.The marathon was NOT an event of the ancient Olympic games. The marathon is a modern event that was first introduced in the Modern Olympic Games of 1896 in Athens, a race from Marathon northeast of Athens to the Olympic Stadium, a distance of 40 kilometers.
The race commemorates the run of Pheidippides, an ancient "day-runner" who carried the news of the Persian landing at Marathon of 490 B.C. to Sparta (a distance of 149 miles) in order to enlist help for the battle. According to the fifth century B.C.ancient Greek historian Herodotus, Pheidippides delivered the news to the Spartans the next day.
The distance of the modern marathon was standardized as 26 miles 385 yards or 42.195 km. in 1908 when the Olympic Games were held in London. The distance was the exact measurement between Windsor Castle, the start of the race, and the finish line inside White City Stadium.NUDITY AT THE GAMES?
There are two stories relating to the question of nudity at the ancient Olympic Games. One story states that it was a runner from Megara, Orsippos or Orrhippos who, in 720 B.C. was the first to run naked in the stadion race when he lost his shorts in the race. Another tradition is that it was the Spartans who introduced nudity to the Olympic Games in the 8th century B.C. as it was a Spartan tradition. It is not clear if the very first recorded victor at Olympia, Koroibos, who won the stadion race in 776 B.C. wore shorts or not. It seems fairly clear that by the late 8th century nudity was common for the male contestants.
FROM ANCIENT TO MODERN
Although the ancient Games were staged in Olympia, Greece, from 776 BC through 393 AD, it took 1503 years for the Olympics to return. The first modern Olympics were held in Athens, Greece, in 1896. The man responsible for its rebirth was a Frenchman named Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who presented the idea in 1894. His original thought was to unveil the modern Games in 1900 in his native Paris, but delegates from 34 countries were so enthralled with the concept that they convinced him to move the Games up to 1896 and have Athens serve as the first host.THE OLYMPIC FLAME
The idea of the Olympic torch or Olympic Flame was first inaugurated in the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. There was no torch relay in the ancient Olympic Games. There were known, however, torch relays in other ancient Greek athletic festivals including those held at Athens. The modern Olympic torch relay was first instituted at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.The Olympic Oath was introduced in 1920.
Ancient Olympic Games
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Ancient Olympic Games
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The palaestra of Olympia, a place devoted to the training of wrestlers and other athletes
The ancient Olympic Games (Ὀλυμπιακοὶ ἀγῶνες; Latin: , neuter plural: "the Olympics") were a series of athletic competitions among representatives of city-states and were one of the Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece. They were held in honor of Zeus, and the Greeks gave them a mythological origin. The originating Olympic Games are traditionally dated to 776 BC. The games were held every four years, or Olympiad, which became a unit of time in historical chronologies. They continued to be celebrated when Greece came under Roman rule, 2nd century BC. Their last recorded celebration was in AD 393, under the emperor Theodosius I, but archeological evidence indicates that some games were still held after this date. The games likely came to an end under Theodosius II, possibly in connection with a fire that burned down the temple of the Olympian Zeus during his reign.
During the celebration of the games, the (an Olympic truce) was announced so that athletes and religious pilgrims could travel from their cities to the games in safety. The prizes for the victors were olive leaf wreaths or crowns. The games became a political tool used by city-states to assert dominance over their rivals. Politicians would announce political alliances at the games, and in times of war, priests would offer sacrifices to the gods for victory. The games were also used to help spread Hellenistic culture throughout the Mediterranean. The Olympics also featured religious celebrations. The statue of Zeus at Olympia was counted as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Sculptors and poets would congregate each Olympiad to display their works of art to would-be patrons.
The ancient Olympics had fewer events than the modern games, and only freeborn Greek men were allowed to participate, although there were victorious women chariot owners. As long as they met the entrance criteria, athletes from any Greek city-state and kingdom were allowed to participate. The games were always held at Olympia rather than moving between different locations as is the practice with the modern Olympic Games. Victors at the Olympics were honored, and their feats chronicled for future generations.
1 Origin mythology 2 History 2.1 Prehistory 2.2 First games
2.2.1 Olympiad calendar
2.3 Early history 2.4 Imperial period
2.4.1 Roman conquest of Greece
2.4.2 Augustus 2.4.3 Nero 2.4.4 Renaissance 2.5 Decline 3 Location 4 Culture 5 Politics 6 Events 6.1 Running 6.2 Combat 6.3 Discus 6.4 Long jump 6.5 Pentathlon
6.6 Equestrian events
7 Famous athletes
8 Olympic festivals in other places
9 See also 10 References 11 Further reading 12 External links
To the Ancient Greeks, it was important to root the Olympic Games in mythology. During the time of the ancient games their origins were attributed to the gods, and competing legends persisted as to who actually was responsible for the genesis of the games.
These origin traditions have become nearly impossible to untangle, yet a chronology and patterns have arisen that help people understand the story behind the games. Greek historian, Pausanias provides a story about the dactyl Heracles (not to be confused with the son of Zeus and the Roman god Hercules) and four of his brothers, Paeonaeus, Epimedes, Iasius and Idas, who raced at Olympia to entertain the newborn Zeus. He crowned the victor with an olive wreath (which thus became a peace symbol), which also explains the four-year interval, bringing the games around every fifth year (counting inclusively). The other Olympian gods (so named because they lived permanently on Mount Olympus) would also engage in wrestling, jumping and running contests.
Another myth of the origin of the games is the story of Pelops, a local Olympian hero. Oenomaus, the king of Pisa, had a daughter named Hippodamia, and according to an oracle, the king would be killed by her husband. Therefore, he decreed that any young man who wanted to marry his daughter was required to drive away with her in his chariot, and Oenomaus would follow in another chariot, and spear the suitor if he caught up with them. Now, the king's chariot horses were a present from the god Poseidon and therefore supernaturally fast. The king's daughter fell in love with a man called Pelops. Before the race however, Pelops persuaded Oenomaus' charioteer Myrtilus to replace the bronze axle pins of the king's chariot with wax ones. Naturally, during the race, the wax melted and the king fell from his chariot and was killed. After his victory, Pelops organized chariot races as a thanksgiving to the gods and as funeral games in honor of King Oenomaus, in order to be purified of his death. It was from this funeral race held at Olympia that the beginnings of the Olympic Games were inspired. Pelops became a great king, a local hero, and he gave his name to the Peloponnese.
The Olympic Games: Locations, Facts, Ancient & Modern
The Olympic Games, which originated in ancient Greece, were revived in the late 19th century. They are now the world’s preeminent sporting competition and are held every two years, alternating between Summer and Winter Games. The Winter 2022 Olympics will take place in Beijing, China.
The Olympic Games
HISTORY.COM EDITORSUPDATED:FEB 7, 2022ORIGINAL:JAN 6, 2010
The Olympics Begin in Ancient Greece
Decline and Revival of the Olympic Tradition
The Olympics Through the Years
The Olympic Games, which originated in ancient Greece as many as 3,000 years ago, were revived in the late 19th century and have become the world’s preeminent sporting competition. From the 8th century B.C. to the 4th century A.D., the Games were held every four years in Olympia, located in the western Peloponnese peninsula, in honor of the god Zeus. The first modern Olympics took place in 1896 in Athens, and featured 280 participants from 12 nations, competing in 43 events. Since 1994, the Summer and Winter Olympic Games have been held separately and have alternated every two years. The 2022 Winter Olympics will be held from February 4 to February 20, 2022 in Beijing, China and feature figure skating, ice hockey, curling and more.WATCH: The First Olympics on HISTORY Vault
The Olympics Begin in Ancient Greece
The first written records of the ancient Olympic Games date to 776 B.C., when a cook named Coroebus won the only event—a 192-meter footrace called the stade (the origin of the modern “stadium”)—to become the first Olympic champion. However, it is generally believed that the Games had been going on for many years by that time. Legend has it that Heracles (the Roman Hercules), son of Zeus and the mortal woman Alcmene, founded the Games, which by the end of the 6th century B.C had become the most famous of all Greek sporting festivals.
The ancient Olympics were held every four years between August 6 and September 19 during a religious festival honoring Zeus. The Games were named for their location at Olympia, a sacred site located near the western coast of the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece. Their influence was so great that ancient historians began to measure time by the four-year increments in between Olympic Games, which were known as Olympiads.
Did you know? The 1896 Games featured the first Olympic marathon, which followed the 25-mile route run by the Greek soldier who brought news of a victory over the Persians from Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C. Fittingly, Greece's Spyridon Louis won the first gold medal in the event. In 1924, the distance would be standardized to 26 miles and 385 yards.
After 13 Olympiads, two more races joined the stade as Olympic events: the diaulos (roughly equal to today’s 400-meter race), and the dolichos (a longer-distance race, possibly comparable to the 1,500-meter or 5,000-meter event). The pentathlon (consisting of five events: a foot race, a long jump, discus and javelin throws and a wrestling match) was introduced in 708 B.C., boxing in 688 B.C. and chariot racing in 680 B.C. In 648 B.C., pankration, a combination of boxing and wrestling with virtually no rules, debuted as an Olympic event. Participation in the ancient Olympic Games was initially limited to freeborn male citizens of Greece; there were no women’s events, and married women were prohibited from attending the competition.
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Decline and Revival of the Olympic Tradition
After the Roman Empire conquered Greece in the mid-2nd century B.C., the Games continued, but their standards and quality declined. In one notorious example from A.D. 67, the decadent Emperor Nero entered an Olympic chariot race, only to disgrace himself by declaring himself the winner even after he fell off his chariot during the event. In A.D. 393, Emperor Theodosius I, a Christian, called for a ban on all “pagan” festivals, ending the ancient Olympic tradition after nearly 12 centuries.
It would be another 1,500 years before the Games would rise again, largely thanks to the efforts of Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937) of France. Dedicated to the promotion of physical education, the young baron became inspired by the idea of creating a modern Olympic Games after visiting the ancient Olympic site. In November 1892, at a meeting of the Union des Sports Athlétiques in Paris, Coubertin proposed the idea of reviving the Olympics as an international athletic competition held every four years. Two years later, he got the approval he needed to found the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which would become the governing body of the modern Olympic Games.READ MORE: The Modern Olympic Games: A Timeline
The Olympics Through the Years
The first modern Olympics were held in Athens, Greece, in 1896. In the opening ceremony, King Georgios I and a crowd of 60,000 spectators welcomed 280 participants from 12 nations (all male), who would compete in 43 events, including track and field, gymnastics, swimming, wrestling, cycling, tennis, weightlifting, shooting and fencing. All subsequent Olympiads have been numbered even when no Games take place (as in 1916, during World War I, and in 1940 and 1944, during World War II). The official symbol of the modern Games is five interlocking colored rings, representing the continents of North and South America, Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia. The Olympic flag, featuring this symbol on a white background, flew for the first time at the Antwerp Games in 1920.