The Olympic Games The Olympic Games are a tradition of athletic events that take place every four years. They are a custom that was started many years ago, but are currently taken for granted. People from all over the world tune their televisions and radios to watch and listen to the events, but never question their existence. When were the Olympic games started? What was the first event? How did it grow? Where were the first games held? Why did they start? Did they have any political, social, or religious meanings? The games started about 3,500 years ago in the country of Greece. The first games were not called the Olympic games but the Classical games.
They were held every four years as they are today. They were different from todays games, in that they were held at four different city-states. At each city-state, the games were given different names. They were the Olympic Games, held at Olympia; the Pythian Games at Delphi; the Nemean Games at Nemea; and the Isthmian Games at Corinth. These games later spread to over 150 cities as far as Rome, Naples, Odessus, Antioch, and Alexandria. Olympia still has records of its champions over 776 BC to AD 217. The champions of Olympia came from about a dozen cities in Greece, but mainly from Sparta and Athens.
The first Olympic Games only consisted of one event. The first event was a stade won by Coroebus of Elis. A stade was a foot race of about 210 yards. Later, horse racing was added next followed by a long-distance race, wrestling, and the pentathlon. The first games held in Olympia were in honor of Zeus.
The games, like all the Greek games, was an intrinsic part of a religious festival. Religion was the basis of a tradition that has out lasted time. All the games held in Greece were in the honor of one of their acknowledged gods. The first Olympic Games lasted only one day, but with the addition of events, the games were extended to four days of events and the fifth day was dedicated to a religious closing. All the events were competed in the total nude. This was to glorify the gods. It was a symbol of the perfect and pure body being offered to the god.
Religion was a major part of the Greek culture. Thus, when games were held in tribute to gods they were well attended. Evidence proves that the games were grand celebration throughout Greece. There was even a sacred truce, or ekecheiria, that guaranteed athletes, officials, and spectators safe passage to Olympia. The carrying of the torch was a very religious event. It consisted of runners racing through the city attempting to lay a burning torch at the feet of the altar of the designated god.
The winner was held with high regards. Religious ceremonies often followed the race. Even though the Olympic Games were held for religious reasons, most that we do not know, the torch race was never practiced during the games. The awards given to the athletes were far from expensive, but they were very honorable. The winner received crown of olive branches intertwined that was placed on the victors head.
They were no ordinary olive branches, though, they were cut from the sacred olive tree. No one knows for sure where the tree was located, but many assume it was located in the coliseum. The coliseum was also designed to worship the gods. It contained a huge altar of Zeus at one end looking over everything. On his sides were small altars of less significant gods and goddess.
Located in the middle of the track were many more gods and goddess with even less importance. So even the architectural work of the games had religious meanings inscribed in them. Even though the Olympics were founded on religion, like everything else, it changed to a matter of fame and fortune. The awards for the winners were initially more honorable than monetary. This, however, changed over the years. An athlete ran for the pride of his city-state, and in return the city-state took care of its winners.
The games were financed and officiated by one man, usually a very wealthy individual. When one of the athletes from his city-state won he rewarded them with great wealth and fame. Other winners became jealous of the monetary awards. In return for their services, they demanded a ransom from their city-states when they were victorious. Some athletes were similar to the athletes of today; play for the highest bidder.
This could be a risk on their part, however. The city-states took the games very seriously, and if they paid for a loser it was common for him to lose his life. The corruption did not stop with the athletes either. The Greeks were avid bettors and when they saw athletes prosper from the games they decided to try to. It was a common practice to have booths in front of the coliseum in which spectators could place bets. Stakes could and did become very high and dangerous if you could not pay.
This caused athletes to become under great pressure to win. So the training started. Amatures turned into professionals, with gyms and trainers to prepare them for the upcoming games in four years. They were funded by their city-states and did not have to worry about anything except winning. Competitors were used like dogs. They were only of use to their city-state while they were winning. Once they lost they were simply discarded of.
This was the beginning of professional sports in a sense. The Olympic Games have also provided many things for the people of today. The Olympics were eliminated around the end of the 4th century, but when they were revived in 1887, by a 24-year-old Baron Pierre de Coubertin. The first modern day Olympics were held in April 1896 in Athens. The modern Olympics, like the ancient Olympics, begin with an opening ceremony and end with a spectacular closing ceremony.
The games of the Olympics for the most part have not changed. There have been events added over the years, but are added in the same fashion as they were a thousand years old. For an event to be added, it has to go through a trial Olympics to see if the spectators approve of it. After the spectators show their approval in attendance, the event will be added to the next Olympics. The competitors of the next event will then be allowed to compete for the gold, silver, and bronze.
Unlike the ancient Olympics, the modern day Olympic Games have been split into a winter and summer session of games. In addition, the Olympics are attended by almost all the countries in the world, not city-states of Greece. The games have kept there prestige and significance, but events and participants have changed. The Olympic Games are an event that everyone recognizes, but never really questions its existence. Mankind does not take the time to wonder when or where the first games were held. Additionally, they do not realize the significance religion played in the games. Finally, society does not wonder where they were first held or what the first event was.
Well now, as Paul Harvey says, you know the rest of the story. Works Cited Mallwitz, A. (1972). Olympia and seine Bauten [Olympia and its structures]. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.
Moretti, L. (1959). Olympionikia [Olympic victors] (Vol. 8). Rome: Accademia Nationale dei Lincei. Ulf, G., & Weiler, I. (1980).
Der Ursprung der antiken Olympischen Spiele in der Forschung [The origins of the ancient Olympic Games in research], Stadion, 6, 1-38. Weiler, I. (1981). Der Sport bei den Volkern der alten Welt [The sports of the people of the ancient world]. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.