Games Olympic Games

Olympic Games

In 776 B.C. Olympic event won overall greek recognition. This year was the first chronicle page of the Olympic games. Early greeks had a nice tradition: names of olympic winners - olympionics - were engraved in marble columns installed along Alpheus river bank. Thanks to this traditions we know the date - 776 B.C. The name of the first winner was Coroebus, he was a cook from Elis. The first thirteen Games comprised of only one competition - one stage run that should correspond to the length of six feet of Zeus hierophants. According to legend, this distance in Olympia was measured by Heracles and was equal to 192 meters and 27 centimeters. That is where a known word "stadium" has appeared. In the beginning athletes of only two cities of Elis - Elisa and Pisa. Soon Games and "holy ceasefire" became so popular that all greek states began to participate in the Games. During all Olympic games, whose duration increased, there was cease-fire for all armies making war. Warriors who were irreconcilable enemies yesterday put their weapon aside and headed off to Olympia from all parts of Greece.

Olympia is unusual city dissimilar to any others. It is located on south-west of Greece in Alpheus river valley that runs into Ionian sea. Northern bank of Alpheus is a large valley bordered with hursts with snowcapped mountain peaks behind. Only during the Games Olympia belonged to people, normally it was the city consecrated to Gods. Only priests, deposition and treasures keepers lived here. Around the valley there was a green sacred belt - Altis. Plane trees, cypress and olives grew in the sacred grove. Behind the grove there were temples of Zeus, Hera, Demeter, temples with beautiful and clear lines, masterpieces of greek architecture. Inside there were statues among which Hermes made by the famous greek sculptor Praxiteles, and twelve-meter Zeus made of gold and ivory by the largest sculptor of ancient time Phidias. Brilliant collections of shields, amphora, vases, high-value helmets complemented the magnificence of the temples. To the north of Temple of Zeus there was a hill surrounded by a pentagonal wall. According to legend the hill was a grave of Pelops. Further to the north at the foot of Hill of Kronos a copper disk with carved text of agreement of Iphitus and Lycurgus has been long kept in the temple of Hera. In Altis in the northern-western part there was a range of buildings where jewels - gifts of greek states and cities, particular citizens were kept. Among the Altis buildings there were approximately seventy altars where sacrifices were made to numerous gods held in esteem in ancient Greece.


To the north-east from the sacred grove there was a stadium four meters lower than Altis. It was attached to Altis with thirty two meter subway. After making sacrifices to gods competitors escorted by judges came to the stadium for competition using the subway. Stadium had a semi-oval form elongated from the west to east, approximately 215 meters long and 30 meters wide. It was surrounded by low embankment and audience was behind it. Benches were caved and covered with marble for guests of note. Run track was quite wide, and eight athletes could run on it at the same time. Gymnasium located to the north-west of the sacred grove also belonged to Olympia buildings used for event and sporting competitions. Gymnasium had a wide yard surrounded with colonnade, there were run tracks, throwing and fighting places, etc. Gymnasium was designed for trainings. Gymnasium yard also had alleys with shade trees where athletes had rest after exercises. Marble statues of the most famous olympionics stood among the trees. Stone building was located in the center of gymnasium yard - palaestra - which was designed for various exercises. There were rooms for playing ball, for exercises with sacks (these exercises were the major in training pugilists). Wash houses were located there as well. In a special room one could oil his body, the other room had fine Nile sand brought from Egypt and used for sanding the body. Before exercises athletes oiled their bodies and then sanded them. Beyond gymnasium there was adjacent first "olympic village" - accomodation for athletes who came over for the competition.

With Olympiad approaching messengers rode from Elis to all parts of Greece to announce "holy ceasefire". These messengers stopped wars by their authority. They were triumphantly welcomed everywhere, not only in Greece, but also wherever the Greeks were settled - in Crimea, Egypt, Spain. It is worth to mention here that at that time not all the Greeks can take part in the Games. To take part in the Games it was necessary to: "not to be a slave, a barbarian, and not to commit crimes, blasphemy, and sacrilege". Aliens who are not citizens of Greek states were considered as barbarians. But whether all the freeborn Greeks were able to take part in the Olympic competitions or not? Only slaves and barbarians were prohibited to take part in the Games by the law leaving room for the freeborn Greeks. But the freeborn Greeks were heterogeneous by their social and material status. Alongside with slave-owing aristocracy there were a lot of small landholders and craftsmen. They were allowed taking part in the Games by the law, but a range of requirements to participants actually did not them to participate in competitions. Under the Olympic rules all athletes should be registered by judges a year before the opening of competitions, and before the beginning of the Games they were required to produce evidence of their training to the competitions and everyday exercises during for at least ten last month before the Games. Only winner of the previous Olympics were the exception. Besides, each participant must come to the Olympia at least one month before the Games, and be tested in a gymnasium during a month, and also bear all charges by itself. Announcement of the Olympic Games has caused incredible rush among all the Greeks. People packed into boats, gathered together and walked. The chain of men and adolescents coming to the Olympia could be seen everywhere. The exception were married women who, under the danger of death, were restricted to watch the Games. Pausanias in his book "Description of Greece" writes that near the Olympia on the shore of the Alpheus there was a huge cliff from which women attempting to infiltrate the sacred Games were pushed off. However, Pausanias adds that there has only been one case when a woman was found in a festival.


It was legendary Kallypathera or Ferenika as she is known. The legend about her is rather curious. The story goes that this woman being from well-known Diagorid family from the Rhodes isle, that gave a lot of Olympic champions, trained her son Poseidor in martial art by herself preparing him to competitions. On arriving to the Olympia and being confident that her son will win, Kallypathera wanted to see his triumph at whatever costs. She wore male dress and entered the stadium, having mixed up with a group of pedotribes - trainers. When her son Poseidor dominated contenders one by one and became the Olympic champion, happy mother could not stand: having forgotten about everything, she jumped over a barrier, ran to her son and hugged him... but in a big rush her dress has fallen. Under the law, Kallypathera must be pushed off a cliff, but judges found it beyond their strengths to do it. She was pardoned as she was daughter of a champion, sister of a champion and mother of a champion. But to avoid such cases, it was resolved that pedotribes that are in close proximity to competitions' participants attended the Games naked.

The endless human caravans coming to the Olympia carelessly crossed enemy borders knowing that nothing will happen to them. This phenomenon seems very exceptional, because at that time wars were practically continued. During twelve centuries this holy truce was violated only once by the Arcadia people who during the103rd Olympics in 368 B.C. captured the Olympia. The Greeks' anger was so strong that the Arcadia people were punished and denied the right to participate in the Olympic Games for too long.

On the road to the Olympia, an old people explained a youth the evolution of sport events. At origin, the Games consisted only of run on one stadium. In 724 B.C. it was added by dual run - dual - at a distance 384,54 metres. Then in 720 B.C. long run by dolichos or run on 24 stadium. In 708 B.C., on the 18th Olympics, pentathlon had appeared consisting of simple run, long jump, discus and javelin throw, and wrestling. The first wrestling competition was took place in the same Olympics. After another five Olympics in 688 B.C. a programme enriched with knuckle fighting, and after another two Olympics - car contest, and on the 33rd Olympics in 648 B.C. the hardest and undoubtedly the sharpest type of competition - Pankration combining wrestling and fighting skills - had occurred.


The Pankration allowed everything: any stroke, hold, kicks, submission locks and even...bites. Later the Game programme was added by armed run, run of trumpeters and heralds, contest of cars pulled by mules, competitions for children on wrestling, horse races, pentathlon, and in 200 B.C. on the 145th Olympics even children Pankration had occurred.

Before the Games a tent camp for audience was built around the Olympia. A revival was usually prevailed in a camp. And it was full of traders arranging here their business. Here and there the organizers of different bets - bookmakers of that time operating privately but very actively were skirred.


The great day was finally here: Olympics festivals began with the full moon. The day before the Games an audience could admire statues in marble of previous winners, which were placed between stadium and Alpheus river at the expenses of cities where new demigods were born:

  • first Olympic champion Koroibos of Elis;
  • "the strongest among the strong" Milo of Croton;
  • Polites of Corinne who win on the 212th Olympics in all three types of run during a day;
  • Lasphen of Tebei who run 30 kilometers, competing with a horse;
  • "the strongest among the strong" Milo of Croton;
  • Niccolo of Acria who at two Olympics won five victories in run, and a lot of other famous athletes. A few tens of almost identical statues of Zeus overlooking the Cronos hill were compulsorily showed to youngsters. Each of these statues were erected on money from fines imposed upon those Games participants who cheated, tried to bribe opponents, injured contestants during a competition, in general committed different unethical acts.

Violations of rules fixed in historical monuments were diverse. For example, on the 71st Olympics in 496 B.C. hellanodikes (judges) did not accept athlete Kleomed as the wrestling winner, because he killed his contestant during a competition. On the 75th Olympics in 480 B.C. the famous athlete Teagan was fined because he refused to participate in Pankration, having said that he got tired during wrestling, and upon the rules, all types of competition within the programme were obligatory for each participant.

On the 90th Olympics in 420 B.C. the Lichas's teamster victory was invalidated as he illegally took part in the Games: Lichas was Spartan, but Sparta did not participate in this Olympics, and Lichas participated with his car in the name of another city. After the 98th Olympics four Zeus statues were immediately erected: wrestler Eupol bribed his three contestants. All four members were punished not only with solid fine, but also overall contempt. Not without reason one of the inscriptions of these statues stated:
“an Olympic victory is to be won, not by money, but by swiftness of foot and strength of body”.


The Olympic festival began with gala parade, heading up the gold statue of Zeus. The parade were led by hellanodikes in purple vestments who were followed by athletes and notable citizens. Two huge bulls were sacrificed to Zeus. Then judges and participants swore a solemn oath to be worth of olive-crown award made of sacred tree's branches. Having carried out the sacrifice ceremony to Zeus, parade headed to temples of other gods where it performed other various ceremonies. The gorgeous art festival took place in the evening after ballot. During the height of the festival, athletes tried to went to sleep with half-starved stomachs, having eaten only a piece of cheese and chased it with cold water. Athletes tightened their belts with an easy mind, because in case of the victory the award was huge. First, the territory where the champion was born no longer entered under the protection of the gods, and then the champion itself became a demigod. On his return to home, he was fantastically welcomed, and till his dying day he was given a lot of courtesy, but after his death his was ascribed to the host of "small gods". All of these are good enough!

Well, the great day was here. From 40 to 60 people occupy their seats on a banket around a stadium. Trumpets welcome the coming of hellanodikes and honorary guests. Athletes wait at the corner of arena and in turns walk out in the middle to identify themselves after the announcement of their names by a barker. A barker calls out a name and native land of each athletes and asks three times: "Whether all of you, happy guests of Olympia, agree that this athlete is free and worthy citizens or not?" And then the competitions began. The first day consisted of the competition on all types of run, the second - pentathlon, and the third - fighting, wrestling and Pankration. The fourth day was fully dedicated to children. The running distance for children was half as much, than for adults. The fifth day was consisted of competition among cars pulled by four horses - horseracing on loop on 1538 meters and on 14 kilometers. The Olympic festival ended with a set of grand banquets, that in turns were organized by each state.

Among all days of the Game, an audience expected the third day most, when the strongest were competed. The contests began with the least harsh type of fighting. Here head impacts were not punished, but punches were explicitly forbidden. The ground was greatly watered, and fighters oiled their bodies. So that this type of fight required to be more sharp, than strong in order to lay out a contestant three times and win. The wrestling required much more strength to win that was greatly appreciated by audience. There was only one rule: someone who kill his contestant, will face the most severe punishment. Hands of fighters were winded with gentle, elastic bands of cow leather; all fingers except the thumb were covered. Then a band was tightly screwed around a hand. It protected not only fingers from injures, but also increased the strength of stroke. Only strikes in a face and head were allowed, that's why fighters often performed in leather or even metal helmets. Sometimes the first stroke resulted in victory, so that opponents played it safe, watched, and maneuvered a lond while around the ground. And seizing a favourable moment one dealt a crushing blow to a contestant.

The Greeks loves more those who won not by brute force, but by art. In I century AD, Melankomas of Caria was very popular by his brilliant defense. Holding his hands outstretched he skilfully held an opponent on a distance, preventing his strokes. Melankomas could stay up one, two, three and more hours until his opponent became exhausted. In his entire sport career he did not injure any of his opponents, being left undefeated.

The third competition day is Pankration. The competition began with wrestling. Here fighters performed without bands. Opponents, having held a convenient position and firmly stood astride with corpus poising forward and head titling back and left, began to strike each other by hand. Sometimes one of the opponents were constrained by self-protection, reflecting a contestant's strokes, and when it saw that an opponent became exhausted it went on to the offensive. When one of the opponents fall down to the earth, the competition was continued as a fighting.

One of the remarkable figures in this type of sport was great Milo of Croton. Being handsome man with giant height and perfectly built muscles, he produced furious worship of audience and chroniclers of his day. The story goes that in the evening of the day he won his six Olympic victory (from 57th to 63rd Olympics), Milo loaded a bull onto his shoulders, a huge bull that was slaughtered in his name, and made a circle around a stadium, and in the evening during the festival he ate it entirely.


Not only competitions on a stadium were warmly welcomed by audience. The competitions on hippodrome were also popular. Since 680 B.C. when the first horseracing competitions took place, the programme of this type of sport was continually added. At first, there were competitions on two-wheeled cars pulled by four horses, then on cars pulled by two horses, and then horseracing and even cart competition pulled by mules had appeared. The Olympia hippodrome was magnificent: 720 meters at length, 320 meters in width. At origin, owner of horses were both coaches and participants. But this competitions were very dangerous as participants used the most harsh means to turn over a car of an opponent, and prevent it of reaching the finish line. Incidents and even deaths often occurred in this competitions. In a moment the owners of horse stables decided to win a victory, without rolling the dice. They sent slaves to competitions under their names. In case of victory, a slave received a substantial sum of money and even could given a freedom and become an independent citizens. One might think that contestants showed no mercy to each other getting a victory to their owners. This custom was spread rapidly. And soon only professionals have become involved into these competitions. There are even known cases when an owner of horses did not visit the Games. For example, powerful governors charged with public affairs acted like this. Some czars kept luxurious horse stables, example Roman emperors Tiberius and Nero, whose names are listed among Olympic champions.

How did it happen so that among Olympic champions were romans, if aliens where prohibited to participate in the Games? In 146 B.C. Greece was conquered by romans, and the defeated Greeks against the holy tradition and were forced to allow romans to participate in the Games. Nero being filled with pride declared to built a fairy palace in the Olympia, and then decided to take part in car contests by itself. A lot of athletes were expected to attend these contests. A great number of cars was belonged to notable names, and participant were perfectly trained. But when it became known that the emperor personally want to participate in a competition, everything immediately withdrawn. No one dared to hinder Nero from becoming a «champion». Everyone knew perfectly well that there is a risk of losing life if you try to oppose the Nero. Thus, Nero appeared at the racecourse in splendid isolation, standing on his chariot pulled by ten horses. He managed to fall twice during the distance, but finally he made it to the finish. He was immediately crowned with a laurel wreath, and no one dared to smile. The Romans introduced circus performances, those very famous bloody games of Roman arenas during which gladiators fought to the death to the Olympics. The crowd reacted to these battles between gladiators and wild beasts with great pleasure: bulls, tigers, lions. This was no longer sport, it was a purely commercial spectacle, bringing large revenues, and it had nothing to do with the Olympic ideals of the Greeks.

In 394 AD Christianity has finally triumphed: Theodosius II, emperor of the East and the West, has declared Christianity the official religion. Bishop Ambrose of Milan, who was called "Christian conscience" of Theodosius could easily convince the emperor that the Olympic Games are the main source of paganism because of their origin and the legends associated with them, and that they must be destroyed. Theodosius proclaimed the Games as wicked and banned them.

The games organized for political purposes by the King Ifit in 884 BC on the advice of the Delphic oracle died in 394 by the order of Emperor Theodosius I, who followed the advice of another saint - Ambrose - also for political purposes. The Olympic facilities have experienced the Games for only one year. In 395, the Byzantines and Gotti confronted on the banks of Alpheus. Olympia was destroyed as a result of this bloody battle. Thirty-one years later, in 426, Theodosius II ordered to burn down and wipe out the remnants of pagan temples. A majestic temple of Zeus has been destroyed, and a Statue, the creation of the immortal Phidias, one of the seven wonders of the world has been taken to Constantinople. This has been done in the name of the Christian faith. One hundred years later two strong earthquakes completed the rout of Olympia. And then suddenly the floods came. They burst their banks, washed away all the obstacles and Olympia has disappeared under the sand and mud.