The Ancient Olympic games were a religious celebration as well as a sporting event. They were held to honour Zeus, the King of the Gods and since they occurred every 4 years, were also used to count the passing of years. The games played an integral part in the politics and culture of the region because they attracted Kings, philosophers, artists, and musicians, other than the athletes that competed.
When the games began, political power in Greece revolved around city-states. They existed quite close together and fought with each other for power over the resources around them. Representatives from each city-state would compete in the games to bring glory and honour to their city-state and establish their athletic excellence in front of others.
The games were so important that a truce was established for the duration of the games. Once the truce or ekecheiria was announced to ensure the safe travel of the competitors, all states had to stop fighting or be banned from the games and pay heavy fines.
Participation in the ancient games was quite restrictive. Only free men (slaves weren’t allowed) who could speak Greek were allowed to compete. However, kings, royalty, and philosophers alike were allowed to enter so long as they fit the criteria. Men competed completely naked because the the games were also a way of celebrating the human form. This could also be the reason why married women were not allowed to participate or be spectators.
At first the Olympic games was a one-day affair with only one event known as the stadion. This was a short sprint of 240 metres. Soon, it was extended to 5 days and more events were added. Athletics were always the most important of them all. Over time other athletic events such as high and long jump, discus throw, and other forms of running events were added. As the popularity of the games increased and the competition became more fierce, wrestling, boxing, and equestrian (horsing) events were added as well.
The winner of an event was awarded an olive branch and red ribbons were tied to his wrists and legs. He was awarded large sums of money by his city-state along with vats of olive oil. Cities greatly celebrated victors and erected statues in their honour.
The horse and chariot races took place in a stadium called the Hippodrome. Can you find out where the name came from? Hint: It has a strong relation to King Pelops, one of the people said to have started the ancient Olympic games.
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