Olympic Games

Olympic Games

The History of the Olympic Games

The first Olympic games at Olympia were held in 776 BC. According to Hippias of Elis, who compiled a list of Olympic victors c.400 BC, the only event held at the first Olympics was the stadion footrace. Scholars have speculated that the games in 776 BC were not the first games, but rather the first games held after they were organized into festivals held every four years as a result of a peace agreement between the city-states of Elis and Pisa. The Eleans traced the founding of the Olympic games to their King Iphitos, who was told by the Delphic Oracle to plant the olive tree from which the victors’ wreaths were cut.

The Olympic Games were a constant in ancient Greece. The games were even held in 480 BCduring the Persian Wars, and they coincided with the Battle of Thermopylae. Although the Olympic games were never suspended, the games of 364 BC were not considered Olympic games because the Arkadians had captured the sanctuary and reorganized the games.

After the Battle of Chaironeia in 338 BC, Philip of Makedon and his son Alexander gained control over the Greek city-states. They erected the Philippeion (a family memorial) in the sanctuary, and held political meetings at Olympia during each Olympiad. In 146 BC, the Romans gained control of Greece and, therefore, of the Olympic games. In 85 BC, the Roman general Sulla plundered the sanctuary to finance his campaign against Mithridates. Sulla also moved the 175th Olympiad (80 BC) to Rome.

The games were held every four years from 776 BC to 393 AD, when they were abolished by the Christian Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I. The ancient Olympic Games lasted for 1170 years. If the Modern Olympic games last that long, they will still be held in 3066 AD!

A Chronology of the Addition of Events to the Olympic Games

According to the tradition of Hippias of Elis ca. 400 BC, the events of the Olympic Games were added to the program in the following order.

Year Olympiad Event
776 BC 1st Olympiad stade race
724 BC 14th Olympiad double-stade race
720 BC 15th Olympiad long-distance race
708 BC 18th Olympiad pentathlon
708 BC 18th Olympiad wrestling
688 BC 23rd Olympiad boxing
680 BC 25th Olympiad 4-horse chariot race
648 BC 33rd Olympiad horse race
648 BC 33rd Olympiad pankration
520 BC 65th Olympiad race in armor
408 BC 93rd Olympiad 2-horse chariot race

The Olympic Games and the Greek Calendar

The Greek calendar was based on the conception of the four-year Olympiad. When Greek historians referred to dates, they most often referred to a year (i.e., first, second, third, fourth) within the Olympiad that the event occurred. The winner of the stade race in a given year had the Olympiad named in honor of him. The first Olympiad is therefore known as that of Koroibos of Elis, the winner of the stade in 776 BC.

The Internationalization of the Olympic Games

From the beginning, the games at Olympia served to strengthen the Greek sense of national unity. During the Hellenistic period, Greeks who came to live in foreign surroundings such as Syria, Asia, and Egypt, strove to hold on to their culture. One of the ways they did this was to build athletic facilities and continue their athletic traditions. They organized competitions, and sent competitors from their towns to compete in the Panhellenic games.

In the 2nd century A.D., Roman citizenship was extended to everyone within the Roman empire. After this point there were many competitors from outside of Greece, and the Olympic games became more internationalized.

When the Greek government reinstated the games in 1896, this international character of the competitions was preserved by Baron de Coubertin . Now, 16 centuries later, the Olympic games attract competitors from countries all over the world.

by Patula Golfi & Apostolopulu Sotiria 


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