Ancient Olympic Games


The first written account of an Olympic game was from the year of 776 BC. A local historian, by the name of Hippias, created a catalogue of a list of names of the victors of the 776 BC games. Some archaeologists assume there may have been multiple games years before.



While being held in bondage, Hercules, who was the greatest hero of Greece, had to complete 12 labors to free himself from slavery to the King of Argos, Eurystheos. One of those labors was to clean out the stables of King Augeus, who was said to possess a great portion of the country’s livestock. A task the Hercules,  promised to achieve in one day, in exchange for one tenth of Augeus’ cattle.  With the help of the goddess Athena, who told Hercules to breach the banks of the river Alpheios, which is bound the site of Olympia, he diverted the river into Augeus’ stable. Thus cleaning them in a matter of short time. In celebration of achieving the fifth labor, Hercules laid out the boundaries of Altis, and instituted the first games in Honor of Zeus at the site of Pelops’s tomb. It is alleged that Hercules measured the length of the stadium by placing one foot in front of the other six hundred times. Which apparently was equivalent to 600 square feet.
We may find it rather appalling that Greek Olympians participated in events completely nude. However, during this time male nudity was not considered shameful. The word “athlete” belongs to classical antiquity.  What we considered athletics the ancient Greeks refer to as gymnastics. This literally means things done nude. The root word gymnos actually translates to nude. Therefore the word gymnasium  “is etymologically, a place to do things naked” (A Brief History of the Olympic Games: Young, page 110).
Who can participate?
Men and young boys from all over the Greek world could participate. There were no singular event for women but some did participate in events. The most famous woman victor is Kyniska of Sparta, who won the four Horse Chariot Race. Since she was the owner of the horses all victories were given to her, not the charioteer.
What did they wear?
What games did they participate in?
Track, wrestling, boxing, chariot racing, javelin, discus,  singing, poetry, and musical games introduced by the Roman king Nero.
Tripods, olive leaf crowns, amphorae filled with olive oil
After hearing of Alexander Soutsos’ idea of reviving the Olympic games, Evangelis Zappas asked the Greek government to re-introduce the Olympic games in 1856. Foreign Minister Alexandros Rangavis thought “athletics would be a throwback to primitive bygone times”(Young, page 142). Around this time there was no such thing as athletics, other than cricket and rowing. He therefore suggested agricultural and industrial games. In 1859 a Olympiad was held in Athens. Unfortunately, the games was not a success.
One day W.P Brookes came across a newspaper article about the 1859 Athens Olympiad. Highly interested and excited, Brookes contacted the British consul in Athens and offered 10lb British Sterling to the winner of the Olympiad. He then went  on and founded the Wenlock Olympic Society and hosted British Olympic Games. In 1880 he proposed the International Olympic games in the city of Athens .Unfortunately, Brookes found no support of the idea of creating an international game, so instead he focused on another proposal to incorporate a physical education program in schools. French Nobleman Baron Pierre de Coubertin found interest in W.P. Brookes proposal for a physical education program and met with Brookes. He ridiculed Brookes international Olympic game proposal but then later changed his mind.
Although Coubertin publicly claimed that he was the sole reviver of the Olympics, it was actually revived by a congressional committee in Paris, that Coubertin organized. The committee was comprised of several delegates, from all over Europe. Most notably, Demetrios Vikelas, a Greek  citizen of Paris.  Originally, Coubertin refused to support the London Games,  and instead he chose Athens. After several postponed votes, it was eventually decided and agreed upon that the 1896 games would be held in Athens. In 1896 the first modern, Olympic Games was held.
Young, David C. A Brief History of the Olympic Games. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. Print.

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