• One difference between the ancient and modern Olympic Games is
that the ancient games were played within the context of a religious
– The Games were held in honor of Zeus, the king of the Greek gods,
• and a sacrifice of 100 oxen was made to the god on the middle day of the
– Athletes prayed to the gods for victory, and made gifts of animals,
produce, or small cakes, in thanks for their successes.
• Ancient athletes competed as individuals, not on national teams, as
in the modern Games.
– The emphasis on individual athletic achievement through public
competition was related to the Greek ideal of excellence, called arete.
– Aristocratic men who attained this ideal, through their outstanding words
or deeds, won permanent glory and fame.
– Those who failed to measure up to this code feared public shame and
The Olympic games were held
at the same place each
• Elis is in the northwestern part of the Peloponnese, which is the
southern peninsula of mainland Greece.
• Because it receives more rain, Elis has better forests and pastures
than the rest of Greece.
• The region was respected in ancient times as a holy and neutral
place because of the sacred grove to Zeus, called the Altis, at
• Olympia is a city at the western coast of the
• Olympia had two parts:
– The city and the Olympics field above on a mountain.
• It was for women forbidden to see the Olympics.
– Once there was a women who tried to see them. See
clothed herself like a trainer and looked at the
matches of her son. When son won a match, she
shouted like a woman and the men of Olympia killed
her. From that time not only the participants but also
the trainers and visitors weren't allowed to wear
• According to legend, the
altar of Zeus stood on a
spot struck by a
thunderbolt, which had
been hurled by the god
from his throne high atop
Mount Olympus, where
the gods assembled.
Some coins from Elis had
a thunderbolt design on
the reverse, in honor of
Over time, the Games flourished, and Olympia
became a central site for the worship of Zeus.
Individuals and communities
donated buildings, statues,
altars and other dedications to
The most spectacular sight at
Olympia was the gold and
ivory cult statue of Zeus
enthroned. The statue was one
of the Seven Wonders of the
Ancient World, and stood over
42 feet high.
A spiral staircase took visitors to
an upper floor of the temple,
for a better view of the statue.
People who were not Greek could not compete
in the Games,
• but Greek athletes traveled hundreds of miles,
– from colonies of the Greek city-states.
– These colonies were as far away as modern-day Spain, Italy,
Libya, Egypt, the Ukraine, and Turkey.
Excellence and the competitive
• When the Persian military
officer Tigranes "heard
that the prize was not
money but a crown [of
olive], he could not hold
his peace, but cried,
– 'Good heavens,
Mardonius, what kind of
men are these that you
have pitted us against?
– It is not for money they
contend but for glory of
• Herodotus, Histories ,
The Olympic truce
• A truce (in Greek, ekecheiria, which literally
means "holding of hands") was announced
before and during each of the Olympic festivals,
to allow visitors to travel safely to Olympia.
• An inscription describing the truce was written
on a bronze discus which was displayed at
• During the truce, wars were suspended, armies
were prohibited from entering Elis or threatening
the Games, and legal disputes and the carrying
out of death penalties were forbidden.
The ancient athlete: amateur or
• Athletic training was a basic part
of every Greek boy's education,
and any boy who excelled in sport
might set his sights on competing
in the Olympics.
• The Olympic competition included
preliminary matches or heats to
select the best athletes for the
• Ancient writers tell the stories of
athletes who worked at other jobs
and did not spend all their time in
• However, just as in the modern
Olympics, an ancient athlete
needed mental dedication, top
conditioning, and outstanding
athletic ability in order to make the
Self-confidence was also an
• A Libyan athlete, Eubotas, was so sure of his
victory in a running event that he had his victory
statue made before the Games were held. When
he won, he was able to dedicate his statue on
the same day.
Victorious athletes were professionals in
the sense that they lived off the glory of
their achievement ever afterwards.
• Their hometowns might
reward them with free
meals for the rest of their
lives, cash, tax breaks,
or leadership positions in
• The victors were
memorialized in statues
and also in victory odes,
Events - Boxing
• Ancient boxing had fewer rules than the modern sport. Boxers
fought without rounds until one man was knocked out, or admitted
he had been beaten. Unlike the modern sport, there was no rule
against hitting an opponent when he was down.
• There were no weight classes within the mens' and boys' divisions;
opponents for a match were chosen randomly.
• Instead of gloves, ancient boxers wrapped leather thongs
(himantes) around their hands and wrists which left their fingers
Events – Chariot Racing
• There were both 2-horse
chariot and 4-horse
chariot races, with
separate races for
chariots drawn by foals.
Another race was
between carts drawn by a
team of 2 mules. The
course was 12 laps
around the stadium track
Events – Riding
• The course was 6 laps around
the track (4.5 miles), and there
were separate races for full-
grown horses and foals.
Jockeys rode without stirrups.
• Only wealthy people could
afford to pay for the training,
equipment, and feed of both
the driver (or jockey) and the
horses. As a result, the owner
received the olive wreath of
victory instead of the driver or
Events - Pankration
• This event was a grueling combination of boxing and wrestling.
Punches were allowed, although the fighters did not wrap their
hands with the boxing himantes.
• Rules outlawed only biting and gouging an opponent's eyes, nose,
or mouth with fingernails. Attacks such as kicking an opponent in the
belly, which are against the rules in modern sports, were perfectly
• Pankration was more than just an Olympic event, it formed the basis
for all combat training for Greek soldiers. Grave, even permanent
injuries were common, as an accepted means of disabling the
adversary: mainly breaking limbs, fingers or even the neck.
Events - Pankration
• Pankration bouts were quite brutal and sometimes life-threatening to the
competitors. There were no weight divisions and no time limits. The fighting
arena or "ring" was no more than twelve to fourteen-feet square to
encourage close-quarter action. Referees were armed with stout rods or
switches to enforce the rules against biting and gouging.
• The contest itself continued uninterrupted until one of the combatants either
surrendered, suffered unconsciousness, or, of course, was killed. Although
knockouts were common, most pankration battles were decided on the
ground where both striking and submission techniques would freely come
– (though there are stories of fighters who chose to die rather than surrender.)
• If there was no winner by sunset, the judges would declare Climax and the
fighters would start taking alternating undefended blows until one was
• There were 4 types of races at Olympia.
– The stadion was the oldest event of the Games. Runners
sprinted for 1 stade (192 m.), or the length of the stadium.
– The other races were a 2-stade race (384 m.),
– and a long-distance run which ranged from 7 to 24 stades
(1,344 m. to 4,608 m.).
– And if these races weren't enough, the Greeks had one
particularly grueling event which we lack. There was also a 2 to
4-stade (384 m. to 768 m.) race by athletes in armor. This race
was especially useful in building the speed and stamina that
Greek men needed during their military service. If we remember
that the standard hoplite armor (helmet, shield, and greaves)
weighed about 50-60 lbs, it is easy to imagine what such an
event must have been like.
• Like the modern sport, an
athlete needed to throw
his opponent on the
ground, landing on a hip,
shoulder, or back for a
• 3 throws were necessary
to win a match.
• Biting was not allowed.
• Attacks such as breaking
your opponent's fingers
Events - Pentathlon
• This was a 5-event combination
• Discus - The ancient Greeks
considered the rhythm and
precision of an athlete throwing
the discus as important as his
strength. The discus was made of
stone, iron, bronze, or lead, and
was shaped like a flying saucer.
Sizes varied, since the boys'
division was not expected to throw
the same weight as the mens'.
• Javelin - a man-high length of
wood, with either a sharpened end
or an attached metal point. It had
a thong for a hurler's fingers
attached to its center of gravity,
which increased the precision and
distance of a javelin's flight.
Events - Pentathlon
• Jump - Athletes used lead or
stone jump weights (halteres)
shaped like telephone
receivers to increase the
length of their jump. The
halteres were held in front of
the athlete during his ascent,
and forcibly thrust behind his
back and dropped during his
descent to help propel his
• Running – Mentioned Above
• Wrestling – Mentioned above
• According to legend, the ancient Olympic
Games were founded by Heracles The first
recorded Olympic victor was Koroibos of Elis,
traditionally dated to 776 B.C. Historical records
and documents have preserved a long list of subsequent
Olympic victors. Greek historians later used number of the
Olympiad as a means of dating events. If an event was said to have
occurred in the first Olympiad, for example, it would be dated to the
period of 776 to 772 B.C.
• The games carried on, even as Greece's power declined
Rome's rose. Although the Olympics continued to enjoy a
measure of prestige, the varying political and economic
changes of the Hellenistic and Roman periods affected both
the site and the games. Some later Roman emperors, who
admired Greek culture, revived the splendor of the games
and restored the site and buildings.
• By the 3rd century A.D.,
however, the lists of victors are
increasingly uncertain and
incomplete; by the end of the
century the lists stop
• Once the Roman emperors
formally adopted Christianity,
they discouraged and
eventually, outlawed, old
"pagan" religious practices.
• Since the Olympic games were
first and foremost a religious
celebration in honor of Zeus,
they held no place in the
• The emperor Theodosius I
legally abolished the games in
393 or 394 A.D.
The Modern Games
• The interest in reviving the Olympics as an international event
grew when the ruins of ancient Olympia were uncovered by
German archaeologists in the mid-nineteenth century. At the
same time, Pierre de Coubertin was searching for a reason
for the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–
1871). He thought the reason was that the French had not
received proper physical education, and sought to improve
this. Coubertin also sought a way to bring nations closer
together, to have the youth of the world compete in sports,
rather than fight in war.
• In a congress at the Sorbonne University, in Paris, France,
held from June 16 to June 23, 1894 he presented his ideas to
an international audience. On the last day of the congress, it
was decided that the first modern Olympic Games would take
place in 1896 in Athens, in the country of their birth.