Olympic Games in Ancient Greece
The very first Olympic games were held in Olympia, Greece, in the year 776 BC and they were stopped in 393 AD. In the beginning, the games were conducted for participants from various cities of Ancient Greece. It was one of the important ceremonial rituals that were held at that time. The games where held in the sanctuary of Olympia and not on Mount Olympus, where Greek gods were assumed to dwell, and hence, the name Olympic was derived. Otherwise it would have been Olympian games.
There are many stories about how the Olympic games originated. One of the stories is that Heracles, the well-known hero of that time had won a race in Olympia, after which he declared that the race would be held every four years. According to another myth, the king of Olympia, Pelops defeated Oenomaus to marry his daughter, Hippodamia. For this his former lover, Poseidon, helped him. In the beginning funeral sacrifices were offered to Pelops, but now there is no sacrifice, only offerings, at every Olympic games. While another story claims that king of Elis, Iphitos sought the help of Pythis, who was the Oracle at Delphi, to protect his kingdom from war and foreign invasion. Pythis ordered him to please the gods by holding games in honor of them. Others say that Zeus started it after he defeated Titans Cronus, the leader of a very powerful race of deities.
The sanctuary of Zeus where the first Olympic games were staged has a twelve-meter tall gold and ivory statue of Zeus, the father of all the Greek Gods. This status was one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World. The only game that was held in the beginning was Stadion or Stade race. It was an ancient two hundred yard foot race, which was considered to be of great supremacy, and the winner was given great respect and large amount of money. Participants had to pass five stakes, divisions in the racetrack, and there was no time limit for the race. Who ever reached the end line first was declared as the winner. Two stade, four hundred meter long, race was started in 724 BC, in the fourteen Olympic games, and was known as the Diaulos.
The racetrack was made out of clay and sand. Hoplitodromos was the last running game added to the Olympics. In that, the athletes were made to wear Armour, carry shied and wear helmet. This was to demonstrate the military capacities and the Armour made it vulnerable to trip and fall. Other games that were added later on were wrestling, boxing, mixed martial arts, chariot racing, long jump, discus thro and javelin throw. The Spartans or the Megarian Orsippus started the tradition of athelitic nudity in 720 BC. As many people fought for the authority of the sanctuary hence it was considered a matter of prestige to conduct the games.
At first, slaves and women were not allowed as spectators or participants. Only free men were allowed to participate in the Olympics. They came from all the states of Greece and when the word started spreading, people started coming from as far as the Mediterranean and the Black sea. Participants had to file their name in the list and had to meet certain standards to qualify for the games. Only youth were allowed to participate and every participant had to take an oath that he had been in training for the past ten months, before the statue of Zeus.
The Heraea Games were started for women and featured foot games like races, just like for men. It was started in the Olympic stadium, was administrated by a group of sixteen women gathered by Hippodameia. All the games, including Olympic Games, which was the most famous, were a subordinate of Panhellenic games. The interval between each game was two to four years, but at least one game was held once in four years. Historian, Ephorus, named the time period between two Olympic games as Olympiad.
Theodosius I or his grandson, Theodosius II ended the tradition of the Olympic games in 435 AD, when they wanted to establish Christianity as a state religion. An earthquake also destroyed the sanctuary of Olympia in the sixth century AD.
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