Ancient Olympics

Emily Eachus

The first recorded Olympics was in 776 B.C

Although the first recorded Olympics was recorded in 776 B.C., when a cook named Coroebus won the single event that was offered- a 192-metre foot race called the ‘stade’- many historians believe that the games had been running for many years before that. According to legend, the Olympics were started by the famous demi-god Heracles, son of Zeus, and had reached peak popularity by the 6th century B.C, as the largest Greek sporting event. As a religious festival to honour the king of Gods, Zeus, the ancient Olympics were held every four years- just like the Olympic games we know and love today- between August 6th and September 19th. The games were named after the location they were played in, Olympia. Olympia was home to one of the oldest religious temples, so it was logical to hold the games here. Another reason for this location is due to how convenient it was to reach the area by ship- Athletes and spectators would travel from as far away as modern-day Spain, and Egypt. Most of these spectators would have been men, for married female spectators were not allowed, under penalty of death. The games were so important that a truce was announced before and during the games, allowing for safe travel to and from Olympia. During this truce, there would be no wars, and death penalties were put on hold. If this was disobeyed, punishment would follow. The historian Thucydides recounts that the Lacedaemonians were banned from participating in the Games, after they attacked a fortress in Lepreum, a town in Elis, during the truce. They were fined 2,000 minae- 2 mina per soldier. A mina was equivalent to 100 drachmas, and one drachma was an average worker's daily wage, proving this to be a heavy punishment. Most of the 45,000 spectators would have slept outside overnight for the duration of the Olympics. Only those more wealthy, such as members of the official delegations, would have elaborate tents and pavilions. For the games, the spectators would make their way into the stadium.
Ancient Olympics
A depiction of long distance runners

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The stadium would have contained around 20,000 seats made from mud

The stadium would have contained around 20,000 seats made from mud. Many spectators would stand, and special wooden chairs were created for the officials. The Olympics were vastly different from those competed today- there were fewer events, and only free men who spoke Greek were allowed to compete. Some of the main games played included, but were not limited to, equestrian events- such as riding and chariot racing- the pentathlon, which was a 5-event combination of discus, javelin, jumping, running and wrestling. Another event was the Pankration, which was a violent mix of boxing and wrestling. Nothing was outlawed other than biting and gouging an opponent's eyes, nose, or mouth with fingernails, making this event truly gruesome. Other events included a sacrifice of 100 oxen as an offering to Zeus on the middle day of the festival. The athletes would pray to the Gods, offering animals and produce in thanks for their success. If an athlete won, they were named heroes and their home town would become known for producing them. Ancient Greeks were happy to compete just for the glory that followed. They would also be presented with an olive branch twisted into a crown, known as a ‘Kotinos’. These were considered a sacred prize, representing great honour. These games were an important part of Ancient Greek life for almost 1,200 years. In 393 A.D., the Roman Emperor Theodosius, a Christan, abolished the games, believing that the worship of Zeus was a pagan abomination. The long-lost tradition was rebirthed in Athens in 1896, where a crowd of 60,000 athletes welcomed athletes from 13 different nations. The idea to reinstall the Olympic games came from a young french baron, Pierre de Coubertin. He raised the idea in 1894 at a conference on international sport in Paris and the 79 delegates unanimously supported his proposal. This formed the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which is still the supreme authority of the Olympic games today.
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Ancient Olympics

Emily Eachus

My name is Emily Eachus and I am currently studying Ancient History and Classical Civilisation a-levels, as well as English literature. I am very interested in ancient civilisations and mythology, and the ways that these ancient people had lived.
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