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The Ancient Games[1]
The ancient Olympic Games were a series of athletic competitions among representatives of city-states and one of the Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece. The Games were a prominent sporting and cultural event that marked the beginning of a four-year cycle – known as the Olympiad – which was used as a method of dating events in the ancient Greek calendar. They were held in honour of Zeus (see picture), and the Greeks gave them mythological origin. The first Olympic Games are traditionally dated to 776 BC. They continued to be celebrated when Greece came under Roman rule in the 2nd century BC.

Initially, there were few events, and only free men who spoke Greek could compete, instead of athletes from any country. Women, slaves and foreigners could not participate. There were no gold, silver or bronze medals – instead, winners were given a wreath of leaves and a hero’s welcome back home. Athletes competed for the glory of their city, and winners were seen as being touched by the gods[2].

Picture Credit: “Zeus” by crafterm is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The last recorded celebration of the games in ancient times was in 393 AD, under emperor Theodosius I, but archaeological evidence indicates that some games were still held after this date.

The ancient games likely ended under Theodosius II, possibly in connection with a fire that burned down the temple of the Olympian Zeus during his reign.

Other important sporting events in ancient Greece included the Isthmian Games, the Nemean Games, and the Pythian Games. Together with the Olympics, these were the most prestigious games and formed the Panhellenic Games.

Some games, such as the Panathenaia of Athens, included musical, reading and other non-athletic contests as well as regular sports events.

The Heraean Games, held in Olympia as early as the 6th century BC, were the first recorded sporting competition for women.

Around 50,000 people from all over the Greek world came to watch and participate in the games every four years. The ancient games were also a religious festival, held in honour of Zeus, the king of the gods.

History[3] at the Olympics” by History Maps is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0.

Areas around the Mediterranean had a long tradition of athletic events. Ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians depicted athletic scenes in the tombs of kings and their nobles. However, they did not hold regular competitions, and those events that did take place were probably the preserve of kings and upper classes. Minoan culture highly regarded gymnastics, with bull-leaping[4], tumbling[5], running, wrestling and boxing shown on their frescoes.

The Mycenaeans adopted Minoan games and also raced chariots in religious or funerary ceremonies. Homer’s heroes participate in athletic competitions to honour the dead. In the Iliad, there are chariot races, boxing, wrestling, a foot race, fencing, archery, and spear throwing. The Odyssey adds to these – with long jumping and discus throwing.

The Ancient Greek philosopher and polymath Aristotle reckoned the date of the first Olympics to be 776 BC, a date largely accepted by most, though not all, subsequent ancient historians.[6] It is still the traditionally given date, and archaeological finds confirm, roughly, the Olympics starting at or soon after that time.

Establishment of the Ancient Olympic Games
The driving force behind the establishment of the ancient Olympic Games is attributed to a combination of historical and mythological factors:

  • Religious and Mythological Origins: The ancient Greeks believed that the Olympic Games were founded by the legendary figure Heracles (Hercules in Roman mythology). According to the myth, Heracles, in honour of his father Zeus, held a foot race at Olympia. This event became the origin of the Games, held in honour of Zeus, the king of the gods.
  • Panhellenic Unity: The ancient Greeks, despite their various city-states, often shared common religious and cultural beliefs. The Olympics provided an opportunity for people from different regions to come together in a spirit of unity and peace to honour their gods.
  • Cultural and Political Significance: The ancient Olympics were not just sporting events; they were part of a broader cultural and political context. The Games served as a platform for Greek city-states to showcase their strength, skill, and cultural prowess, fostering a sense of pride and identity.
  • Athletic Competitions: The ancient Greeks highly valued physical prowess and athletic achievements. Athletic contests were already a part of religious festivals in various regions of ancient Greece. The Olympics served as a way to formalise and standardise these contests on a panhellenic scale.

Early History
Several groups fought over control of the sanctuary at Olympia, and hence the games, for prestige and political advantage. The geographer Pausanias later writes that in 668 BC, Pheidon of Argos[7] was commissioned by Pisa to capture the sanctuary from the town of Elis, which he did and then personally controlled the games for that year. The following year, Elis regained control.

In the first 200 years of the games’ existence, they had only regional religious importance. Only Greeks living near Olympia competed in these early games, as evidenced by the dominance of Peloponnesian athletes in the victors’ rolls.

Over time, the Olympic Games gained increasing recognition and became part of the Panhellenic Games, four separate games held at two- or four-year intervals but arranged to have at least one set of games every year. The other Panhellenic Games were the PythianNemean, and Isthmian Games, although the Olympic Games were considered the most prestigious.

The first recorded victor in the ancient Olympic Games was a cook named Coroebus (also spelt Koroibos) of Elis, who won the stadion race (a foot race in bare feet over a course approximately 200 metres in length) in the 776 BC Games. He was the only competitor in that particular race, and his victory marked the beginning of the recorded history of the Olympic Games.

Roman Conquest of Greece
The Olympics continued after the Roman conquest of Greece, but the event declined in popularity throughout the pre-Augustan era. Romans concentrated on domestic problems during this period and paid less attention to their provinces. The fact that all equestrian victors were from the immediate locality and that there is a “paucity of victor statues in the Altis” from this period suggests the games were somewhat neglected. In 86 BC, the Roman general Sulla robbed Olympia and other Greek treasuries to finance a war. He was the only Roman to commit violence against Olympia. Sulla hosted the games in 80 BC to celebrate his victories over Mithridates. Supposedly the only contest was the Stadion race[8] because all the athletes had been called to Rome.

The 3rd century saw a decline in the popularity of the games. The victory list of Africanus ends at the Olympiad of 217, and no surviving text of subsequent authors mentions any new Olympic victors. Excavated inscriptions show the games continued, however. Until recently, the last securely datable winner was Publius Asclepiades of Corinth[9], who won the pentathlon in 241. In 1994, a bronze plaque was found inscribed with victors of the combative events hailing from the mainland and Asia Minor; proof that an international Olympic Games continued until at least 385 when flooding and earthquakes had damaged the buildings and invasions by barbarians had reached Olympia. Although the last recorded games were held under Theodosius I in 393 AD, archaeological evidence indicates that some games were still held afterwards[10].

The Oldest Olympic Sports
Stadion, the foot race, was the (first and only) event at the Olympics until 724 BC. The ancient Olympic sports comprised three more foot races, several combat sports, and equestrian events. Most of these sports are still in the Games today, albeit modified.

Events [11]

  • Running (Stadion) – the most prestigious event and still competed today, as the 200m sprint.
  • Double-Stade Foot Race (Diaulos) – still competed today as the 400m race.
  • Long Distance Running (Dolichos) – still competed: the nearest equivalent being the 5000m race.
  • Wrestling (Palé) still competed today and requires two competitors.
  • Pentathlon (Discus Toss, Javelin Throw, Long Jump, Stadion, and Wrestling) – not competed as such today, but the individual events (discus, javelin, and long jump) do exist and as does the men’s decathlon and women’s heptathlon.
  • Boxing (Pygmachia) – unlike boxing today, it was very rough in ancient times. Deaths during bouts were not uncommon.
  • Four-Horse Chariot Racing (Tethrippon) – requiring chariots and horses and is not competed today.
  • Pankration – more dangerous than boxing and wrestling, it is no longer played.
  • Hoplite Race (Hoplitodromos) – no longer played. Other foot races were competed in the nude, but the hoplite race required athletes to wear heavy armour and tested their muscular strength and endurance.

The Ancient Olympic Stars
All free male Greek citizens were entitled to participate in the ancient Olympic Games, regardless of their social status: Orsippus, a general from Megara; Polymnistor, a shepherd; Diagoras, a member of a royal family from Rhodes; Alexander I, son of Amyndas and King of Macedonia; and Democritus, a philosopher, were all participants in the Games. Married women were prohibited from participating in or watching the ancient Olympic Games. However, unmarried women could attend the competition, and the priestess of Demeter, goddess of fertility, was given a privileged position next to the Stadium altar.[12] However, there were victorious women chariot owners.

Some of the Olympic champions of the Ancient Games were:

  • Theagenes of Thasos – a pugilist who it is claimed won 1,300 bouts in a 22-year career.
  • Leonidas of Rhodes – a versatile athlete, won the wreath in three categories at the 164, 160, 156 and 152 Olympic Games with 12 Olympic victories to his credit.
  • Gaius Appuleius Diocles – a Roman chariot racer in the 2nd century AD. During a 24-year career, he competed in over 4,200 races, winning 1,462 and finishing second 861 times.
  • Diagoras of Rhodes – a champion boxer and the patriarch of one of the most famous sporting families of ancient Greece.
  • Chionis of Sparta – a versatile track and field athlete specialising in the Stadion and diaulos races, and his record of three consecutive victories was not replicated for nearly 200 years.
  • Milo of Croton – a wrestler known for his larger-than-life feats of strength and substantial appetite. He was six times Olympic wrestling champion. He first won in 540 BC in the youth wrestling event and then five times in men’s wrestling. He also won seven times in the Pythian Games, nine times in the Nemean Games, ten times in the Isthmian Games and innumerable times in small competitions[13].
  • Leonidas of Rhodes – one of the most famous runners in Antiquity, in four consecutive Olympiads (164-152 BC), he won three races – the stade, diaulos and armour. He won a total of 12 Olympic victory wreaths[14].

The Olympic Truce
The Olympic Truce, or ekecheria, is based on an ancient Greek tradition dating back to the 8th century BC. All conflicts ceased during the period of the Truce, which began seven days before the opening of the Olympic Games and ended on the seventh day following the closing of the Games, so that athletes, artists, their relatives and pilgrims could travel safely to the Olympic Games and afterwards return to their countries.

Picture Credit: “1948 Olympic Games Poster” by theirhistory is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Modern Games
Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1894, leading to the first modern Games in Athens in 1896. The IOC is the governing body of the Olympic Movement, with the Olympic Charter defining its structure and authority.

The modern Olympic Games (aka Olympics) are leading international sporting events featuring summer and winter sports competitions in which thousands of athletes from around the world participate in a variety of competitions. The Games are considered the world’s foremost sports competition, with more than 200 nations participating.

The modern Olympic Games are normally held every four years, alternating between the Summer and Winter Olympics every two years in four years. Their creation was inspired by the ancient Olympic Games, held in Olympia, Greece, from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD.

Picture Credit: Olympic Rings.
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The evolution of the Olympic Movement during the 20th and 21st centuries has resulted in several changes to the Olympic Games. Some of these adjustments include the creation of the Winter Olympic Games for snow and ice sports, the Paralympic Games for athletes with disabilities, the Youth Olympic Games for athletes aged 14 to 18, the five Continental games (Pan American, African, Asian, European and Pacific), and the World Games for sports that are not contested in the Olympic Games.

Professional Athletes
Before the 1970s, the Olympic Games were officially limited to competitors with amateur status, but in the 1980s, many events were opened to professional athletes. Currently, the Games are open to all, even the top professional athletes in basketball and soccer. This was not a concern of the Greeks as ancient athletes often received prizes worth substantial sums of money: the word athlete is an ancient Greek word that means ‘one who competes for a prize’ and was related to two other Greek words, athlos meaning ‘contest’ and athlon meaning ‘prize.’

Olympic Gold Medallists
Unlike an olive wreath, intertwined to form a circle or a horseshoe as the prize for being a winner at the Ancient Olympic Games, winners at the Moden Olympics are awarded a medal. There are three classes of medals to be won: gold, silver, and bronze, awarded to first, second, and third place, respectively. The granting of awards is laid out in detail in the Olympic protocols.

Medal designs have varied considerably since the Games restarted in 1896, particularly in the size of the medals for the Summer Olympic Games. The design selected for the 1928 Games remained for many years until its replacement at the 2004 Games in Athens, resulting from a controversy surrounding the use of the Roman Colosseum rather than a building representing Greek roots. The medals of the Winter Olympic Games never had a common design but regularly featured snowflakes and name the event where the medal was won.

In addition to supporting their Olympic athletes, some countries provide money and/or gifts to medal winners, depending on the classes and number of medals won. Here are some examples of countries known to offer financial rewards and gifts to their Olympic medal winners:

  • Singapore: The Singaporean government provides substantial financial rewards to athletes who win medals at the Olympic Games.
  • Indonesia: The Indonesian government rewards Olympic medal winners with monetary prizes.
  • Kazakhstan: Kazakhstan’s government rewards Olympic medal winners with cash prizes.
  • Italy: The Italian government rewards Olympic medal winners with financial bonuses. The specific amounts may vary depending on the Olympic cycle and government policies.
  • Russia: In the past, the Russian government has rewarded Olympic medallists with cash bonuses. However, due to doping-related controversies and sanctions, Russia’s participation in international sports events has been impacted, and the reward policies may have changed.
  • United States: The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) does not offer direct monetary rewards to its medal winners. However, various corporate sponsors and private organisations may provide financial incentives or gifts to successful American athletes.
  • China: The Chinese government has previously provided financial rewards to its Olympic medal winners. The specific amounts may vary based on the medal class and government policies.

If you’d like to know the medallists at every event since 1896, why not go to:

Ancient Olympic Champions
In the ancient Olympic Games, the stadion race (stade race) was one of the most prestigious events. Some notable runners who competed in and won the stadion race in the ancient Olympics were:

  • Coroebus of Elis: As mentioned earlier, Coroebus of Elis was the first recorded winner of the stadion race in 776 BC. He was a cook from Elis and earned the distinction of being the first Olympic champion in history.
  • Leonidas of Rhodes: Leonidas was one of the most celebrated athletes in antiquity. He participated in various running events, including the stadion race. In four consecutive Olympiads (164-152 BC), he won three stadion races, among other victories, and earned a total of 12 Olympic victory wreaths.
  • Chionis of Sparta: Chionis was a versatile track and field athlete specialising in the stadion and diaulos races. He achieved three consecutive victories in the stadion race, a remarkable feat that remained unmatched for nearly 200 years.
  • Diagoras of Rhodes: Diagoras was a champion boxer and a member of one of the most famous sporting families in ancient Greece. He also participated in running events, including the stadion race.
  • Orsippos of Megara: Orsippos was a general from Megara who competed in the stadion race.
  • Astylos of Croton: Astylos was an ancient Greek runner who competed in various running events, including the stadion race.
  • Phanas of Pellene: Phanas was a runner from Pellene who achieved Olympic victory in the stadion race.

These athletes were among the celebrated runners who competed and won in the stadion race of the ancient Olympic Games. The Stadion race symbolised speed, athleticism, and glory; these athletes’ victories brought them great honour in the ancient Greek world.

Lesser-Known Facts about the Ancient Olympic Games
Here are some lesser-known facts and in-depth information about the ancient Olympic Games:

  • Religious Significance: The ancient Olympic Games were deeply rooted in religious beliefs and were dedicated to the Greek god Zeus. The games were held in Olympia, a sanctuary where temples and altars were erected in honour of Zeus and other deities.
  • Heraean Games: While the ancient Olympics were exclusively for male athletes, there were also separate games held in Olympia for women called the Heraean Games. These games were dedicated to the goddess Hera and featured foot races for unmarried women.
  • The Naked Tradition: Athletes competed in the nude in the ancient Olympics. This tradition was believed to honour the human body’s physical beauty and prevent potential cheating, as competitors couldn’t hide any tools or devices under their garments.
  • Ekecheiria: The ancient Greeks observed a sacred truce called “Ekecheiria” or “Olympic Truce” during the Olympic Games. This Truce allowed safe travel for athletes and spectators to Olympia and back home, ensuring the peaceful conduct of the games.
  • Limited Events: Unlike the modern Olympics, which have a wide range of sports, the ancient Olympic Games had a limited number of events. The primary events were foot races, including the stadion, diaulos, and dolichos, as well as wrestling, boxing, pankration (a combination of boxing and wrestling), chariot racing, and the pentathlon.
  • Olive Wreaths: Winners of the ancient Olympic Games received olive wreaths (kotinos) as their prize. These wreaths were made from olive branches and held great symbolic value, representing victory and honour.
  • The Olympic Flame: The lighting of the Olympic flame, a prominent tradition in the modern Olympics, was not a part of the ancient games. The concept of the Olympic flame was introduced much later, during the modern Olympics.
  • The End of the Games: The ancient Olympic Games were discontinued in 393 AD by Roman Emperor Theodosius I, who prohibited all pagan festivals, including the Olympic Games. The games remained forgotten for centuries until their revival in 1896 in Athens.
  • Competing City-States: The ancient Olympics were not just a sporting event but also served as a venue for political and cultural exchange among the various Greek city-states. The games provided an opportunity for these city-states to showcase their strength, unity, and prowess.
  • Olympic Victor’s Oath: Winners of the ancient Olympic Games took a solemn oath, pledging to abide by the rules and compete fairly. This oath was an essential aspect of maintaining the games’ integrity and fair play.
  • Olympiad: The ancient Greeks used the term “Olympiad” to measure time in four-year cycles, starting from the first Olympic Games in 776 BC. Each Olympiad served as a chronological reference point for historical events in ancient Greece.
  • Sacred Truce: The Olympic Truce not only ensured safe travel for athletes but also extended to the spectators and other individuals attending the games. During the Truce, legal disputes and hostilities were suspended, allowing people to travel to Olympia safely.
  • Women’s Exclusion: Married women were not allowed to attend the ancient Olympic Games, even as spectators. The only exception was the priestess of Demeter, known as “Hera’s Priestess,” who had an essential role in the opening ceremony of the Games.
  • Cheating and Punishments: Cheating in the ancient Olympics was taken very seriously. Punishments for cheating athletes included fines, public humiliation, and potential lifetime bans from competing in the games.
  • Crowning Statues: Besides the olive wreaths, victorious athletes were often honoured with statues or monuments in their hometowns. These statues celebrated their achievements and contributed to their local fame.
  • Honour for Coaches: Coaches, known as “paidotribes,” played a significant role in training athletes for the games. Successful coaches received considerable recognition and admiration for their contribution to an athlete’s victory.
  • International Athletes: While most participants were Greek, there is evidence that some non-Greek athletes also competed in the ancient Olympics. Historians have found inscriptions indicating athletes from other regions, such as Asia Minor, participating in certain events.
  • Spectator Seating: The seating arrangements in the ancient Olympic Stadium were designed to reflect the social hierarchy of the time. The most prestigious seats were reserved for officials, priests, and high-ranking individuals, while common spectators sat on grassy embankments.
  • Running Track Measurement: The ancient Greeks used a specific unit of measurement called a “stade” (plural: “stadia”) to measure the length of the running track. The stadion race was one stade long, equivalent to about 192 meters (210 yards) in modern measurements.
  • Olympic Peace Doves: Doves were released during the opening ceremony of the ancient Olympic Games to symbolize peace and the Olympic Truce. This act was a visual representation of the commitment to peaceful and fair competition.
  • Animal Sacrifices: The ancient Olympic Games began with a series of animal sacrifices to honour the gods, particularly Zeus. The sacrifice of animals, such as bulls and goats, was a vital ritual to invoke divine blessings for the success of the games.
  • Herald’s Proclamation: Before the commencement of each event, a herald announced the participants’ names, their city of origin, and the specific event they would compete in. This proclamation added a ceremonial touch to the games.
  • Olympic Messengers: To ensure the Olympic Truce was observed, heralds known as “spondophoroi” were dispatched throughout Greece to deliver messages and ensure the safe passage of athletes and spectators to Olympia.
  • Women’s Role in Ancient Olympia: Although women were barred from competing or attending the games, they still played essential roles in the religious and ceremonial aspects of the event. The priestess of Demeter, as mentioned earlier, had significant duties during the games.
  • Temples and Altars: The sanctuary of Olympia was adorned with grand temples and altars dedicated to various deities. The Temple of Zeus housed the renowned statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
  • Olympic Judges: Known as “Hellanodikai,” the ancient Olympic judges were responsible for overseeing the events and ensuring fairness and adherence to the rules. The judges were selected from Elis, the region where Olympia was located.
  • Olympic Diplomacy: The Olympic Games became an occasion for city-states to engage in diplomatic negotiations and discussions. The sacred Truce provided a unique opportunity for adversaries to come together peacefully.
  • Sculptors and Artists: The ancient Olympic Games attracted artists and sculptors who sought to immortalize the athletes’ achievements in their art. Victorious athletes were sometimes depicted in statues or artwork to celebrate their successes.
  • Opening Ceremony Procession: The opening ceremony of the ancient Olympics featured a grand procession called the “ekphora,” during which athletes, officials, and priests marched to the stadium from the city of Elis to Olympia.
  • Connection to Hercules: The ancient Greeks believed that the Olympic Games were established by the mythical hero Hercules in honour of his father, Zeus. This mythical association added to the games’ significance and prestige.
  • Olympic Festivals: The ancient Olympic Games were just one of the four Panhellenic festivals in ancient Greece. The other three were the Pythian Games (held at Delphi), the Nemean Games (held at Nemea), and the Isthmian Games (held at Isthmia).
  • Olympia as a Neutral Ground: During the Olympic Truce, Olympia became a neutral territory where conflicts between Greek city-states were set aside, allowing everyone to participate in the games peacefully.
  • Women’s Chariot Racing: While women were generally excluded from participating in the Olympics, there was an exception in the case of chariot racing. Women were allowed to enter chariot racing events and even owned and trained the horses.
  • Weight Classes in Boxing: Ancient Greek boxing had weight classes, with competitors grouped based on their body weight. This ensured fair competition, as boxers of similar size and strength would compete against each other.
  • The Heraean Stadium: Like male athletes, women competed in their own stadium during the Heraean Games. The Heraean Stadium was smaller in size compared to the main stadium and had its own unique events.
  • Pankration’s Brutal Nature: Pankration, a combat sport combining elements of wrestling and boxing, was one of the most brutal events in the ancient Olympics. Almost anything was allowed, except biting and gouging eyes.
  • Corruption and Bribery: Despite strict rules against cheating, corruption and bribery were not unheard of in the ancient Olympics. Some athletes and officials tried to gain advantages through illegal means.
  • Olympic Oath: Athletes at the ancient Olympics took an oath before Zeus, pledging to follow the rules, compete fairly, and respect the judges’ decisions. This oath further emphasised the importance of sportsmanship and integrity.
  • Victors as Heroes: Winning an Olympic event brought immense honour and prestige to the victor. Returning home as an Olympic champion made athletes local heroes and often earned them significant rewards and privileges.
  • Reconstruction of Olympia: In modern times, archaeological efforts have led to the excavation and partial reconstruction of the ancient site of Olympia. Visitors can now explore the ruins of temples, altars, and the stadium where the ancient games were held.

These are just a few intriguing aspects of the ancient Olympics that add depth to the history and significance of this historic event. The ancient Olympics offer a fascinating glimpse into the culture, beliefs, and athleticism of ancient Greece.

Did you Know?
Since the first modern Games in 1896, several sports have disappeared from the Olympic schedule. These are croquetcricketJeu de Paumepelotapoloroqueracketstug-of-warlacrosse, and motor boating. Four sports previously discontinued have made a surprising comeback: golf and rugby were voted back in as official sports for Rio 2016, and baseball and softball returned for Tokyo 2020.

The inaugural Games of the modern Olympics in Athens in 1896 were attended by as many as 280 athletes, all male, from 12 countries.

The first Winter Olympics (French: Iers Jeux olympiques d’hiver) and commonly known as Chamonix 1924, were a winter multi-sport event which was held in 1924 in Chamonix, France. Originally held in association with the 1924 Summer Olympics, the sports competitions were held at the foot of Mont Blanc in Chamonix, and Haute-Savoie, France between 25th January and 5th February 1924.

James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens was an American track and field athlete who famously won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games, in Berlin, in front of Adolf Hitler. Owens specialised in the sprints and the long jump and was recognised in his lifetime as “perhaps the greatest and most famous athlete in track and field history”.

Read About the Olympics

Usain Bolt The King of Sprint - 200m Olympic Champion - London 2012 Bolt The King of Sprint – 200m Olympic Champion – London 2012” by Alexandre Moreau | Photography is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Closing Words
There were no modern methods like social media or television to publicise the ancient Olympic Games. The event’s promotion and awareness were mainly spread through word of mouth, announcements in local communities, and emissaries sent to different city-states. Additionally, a sacred truce known as the “Olympic Truce” was declared before and during the games, allowing safe travel for participants and spectators from different regions.

It is important to note that while the mythological origin attributed the foundation of the Games to Heracles, the historical accuracy of this story is uncertain. The archaeological evidence, however, supports the existence of the ancient Olympic Games, which continued for nearly 12 centuries until they were abolished in 393 AD by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I as part of the Christianisation of the Roman Empire. The modern Olympic Games, inspired by the ancient Olympics, were revived in 1896 in Athens, Greece, and have continued to be held ever since, embodying the spirit of international unity and competition.

The concept of “Olympic champions”, as understood today, with athletes receiving gold, silver, and bronze medals, did not exist in the ancient Olympic Games. The ancient Olympics had no awards or winners in the modern sense. The ancient Olympic Games focused on the participation and excellence of the athletes rather than individual winners. Victors in the various athletic events were honoured with wreaths made from olive leaves and were celebrated for their achievements. The recognition of athletes’ success in the ancient Olympics was based on their performance and participation rather than awarding a single champion.

Three runners featured on an Attic black-figured Panathenaic prize amphora. 332–333 BC, British Museum
Picture Credit/Attribution: British Museum, CC BY 2.5 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

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Sources and Further Study

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End Notes and Explanations

  1. Source: Compiled from research using information at the sources stated throughout the text, together with information provided by machine-generated artificial intelligence at: [chat] and
  2. Source:
  3. Source:
  4. Bull-leaping is a term for various types of non-violent bullfighting. Some are based on an ancient ritual from the Minoan civilization involving an acrobat leaping over the back of a charging bull (or a cow). As a sport it survives in modern France, usually with cows rather than bulls, as course landaise; in Spain, with bulls, as recortes and in Tamil Nadu, India with bulls as Jallikattu. Source:
  5. Tumbling, sometimes referred to as power tumbling, is a gymnastics discipline in which participants perform a series of acrobatic skills down a 25-metre (82 ft) long sprung track. Source:
  6. Source: Nelson, Max. (2006) “The First Olympic Games” in Gerald P. Schaus and Stephen R. Wenn, eds. Onward to the Olympics: Historical Perspectives on the Olympic Games (Waterloo), pp. 47–58
  7. See:,_Peloponnese
  8. Explanation: Stadion or Stade was an ancient running event, part of the Ancient Olympic Games and the other Panhellenic Games. It was one of the five major Pentathlon events. It was the premier event of the Gymnikos agon (“nude competition”). From 776 to 724 BC, the stadion was the only event that took place at the Olympic Games. The victor (building) was big enough for 20 competitors, and the race was a 200 yd (180 m) sprint, but the original stadion track in Olympia measures approximately 210 yd (190 m). The race began with a trumpet blow, with officials at the start to ensure there were no false starts. There were also officials at the end to decide on a winner and to make sure no one had cheated. If the officials decided there was a tie, the race would be re-run. Runners started the race from a standing position, probably with their arms stretched out in front of them, instead of starting in a crouch like modern runners. They ran naked on a packed earth track. By the fifth century, the track was marked by a stone-starting line, the balbis. Advancements in this stone starting block led to it having a set of double grooves (10–12 cm (3.9–4.7 in) apart) in which the runner placed his toes. The design of these grooves was intended to give the runner leverage for his start. The winner of the stadion in the first Olympic Games was Coroebus of Elis. Source:
  9. Mentioned at:
  10. Sources: (1) Tony Perrottet (8 June 2004). The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games. Random House Digital, Inc. pp. 190–. ISBN 978-1-58836-382-4 and (2) Hamlet, Ingomar. “Theodosius I. And The Olympic Games”. Nikephoros 17 (2004): pp. 53-75.
  11. Source:
  12. Source:
  13. Ibid
  14. Ibid

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