The Olympic tradition can be traced back thousands of years. The exact date of the first games is unknown but the earliest known records of the games are from 776 BC. The games were closely linked to religion and were celebrated every 4 years just like they do today. However when Christianity became the state religion in Rome, King
Theodosius I banned them as a step to suppress other religious practices.
Unlike the modern Olympic games, its ancient predecessor took place in the plains of Olympia. Greek religion believed that the permanent residence of their gods was up on Mount Olympus and so the venue of the event was always in the plains below the mountain so the gods could witness it from their abode. They were held every 4 years and this period came to be known as an Olympiad.
There are a few different stories behind how the Olympic tradition began.
Pelops, the king of Pisa was in love with the daughter of king Oenomaus. There was a rumour floating around that Oenomaus would be killed by his son-in-law and fearful that the prophecy would come true, he would challenge his daughter’s suitors to a chariot race. Many tried and failed but Pelops won the race with the help of Poseidon, the god of the sea. The first Olympic games were held to celebrate this victory and Pelops’ marriage to Hippodamia.
Greek gods were in the habit of competing in wrestling, jumping and running against each other. Another creation story states that Herakles (not the same as Hercules) and his two brothers raced each other at Olympus. The winner was crowned with an olive branch and was considered the first Olympic games.
For some reason the games were not held for a couple of centuries and were revived by King Iphitos in 776 BC. Asia minor was going through a period of war and famine. When the king asked the Oracle at Delphi what he could do about it she told him that the people had strayed from the gods and that he should organise the Olympic games to appease them.
Since history and religion were very closely linked in ancient Greece, the truth behind these accounts of how the games begin cannot be verified. Although Iphistos did exist as did many other characters that were written about from that time, these stories are probably more fable than truth.
The Ancient Olympic games took place under a giant statue of Zeus, which was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Can you find out what are the other 6 and why they don’t exist anymore?