History of the Olympic Games

In the beginning, the ceremonies had a religious character and were connected with agricultural worship, germination or with the worship of a god or hero. At these religious festivals, the practice of the athletic games was established. The athletes came at the stadium to compete for a self-governing value that came from within them and their victory was an offer to the god. The combination between religion and athletic games showed that victory was a gift from god and that any kind of violation of the rules of an honest contest was sacrilegious and, consequently, an act of blasphemy.

Initially, the Olympiad had a funereal character and Pisatans gave honors to Pelops, the king of Pisa, and the mythical founder of the games, at Olympia. Close to the temple of Zeus there was a sacred and revered place, the Pelopeion, where a black ram was sacrificed every year in the honor of Pelops.

In antiquity, there was no other people, except for the ancient Greeks, with such a passionate love for sports. They believed that athletics were not only entertainment, but also exercises for the body and mind.

Olympic Games in Antiquity  
After the descent of the Dorians, the games were established by Oxylus, leader of the Aetolo - Dorian tribes. Later, the Olympiads were neglected until the time of Iphitus, king of the Eleans , who brought again the games into attention. Since the time of Pelops and Heracles to the first historically recorded Olympiad, it was estimated that the games were not held for 112 years, a total of 28 Olympiads.

The first ancient Olympiad took place in 776 BC. At the time, the ”Sacred Truce” was declared by Iphitus, Cleisthenes of Pisa and Lycurgus of Sparta. With the reestablishment, the Olympic Games contributed to the strengthening of the relations between the Greek city-states. The sacred character of the Games compelled the participants to be free of any hostile intention, because they believed they were protected by god. As time passed, the Olympic Games became the most important of all celebrations and developed the athletic spirit. The testimony of Thucydides, saying that the athletes competed naked at the games, also indicates a progressive separation from religion and evolution to a pure and unique athletic event.

The Olympiads were held every four years, at the end of a period that coincided with the eighth lunar month of the Eleans. As a result of this, the games were either in the month of Apollonios (August/September) or in the month of Parthenios (September/October). According to Pausanias, the thirteen Olympiads held between 776-728 BC had but one sport, named the stadion, which was a foot race on the Olympic stadium, 178 - 179 meters long. In the first Olympiads, the reward was an apple and later a wreath from the Kallistephanos olive tree. The branch was cut off with a golden sickle by a child whose parents were both alive.

At the 14th Olympiad, in 724 BC, the diaulos, a race of two stadia was added, while at 15th Olympiad, in 720 BC, the innovation was the dolichos, a long distance race. Beginning with the 18th Olympiad, in 708 BC, the pentathlon and the wrestling were included. In the 23rd Olympiad, in 688 BC, boxing appeared, and in 680 BC, in the 25th Olympiad, the chariot race was added as an event.

Only during the 65th Olympiad, in 520 BC was the race in armour included. In the meantime, other sports were added up to 200 BC, when the pankration event for boys was included in the Olympic program, which finally consisted of sixteen events.
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The Heraia
Olympic Games in Antiquity
Besides the Olympic Games for men, every four years in Olympia were also held, from very early times, the heraia, which were foot races for women in honour of Hera. As it appears, these female games were even more ancient than the Olympic games.
Heraia were games of pre-Dorian origin which, according to the legends, were organized for the first time by Hippodamia in her desire to honour Hera and express her gratitude for her marriage to Pelops. In the ancient time, the organization of the games was carried out by sixteen women from prominent Elean families who also acted as judges. Every four years, sixteen female Eleans wove the peplos of the goddess and organized a foot race for virgins. The virgins were divided, according to age, into three categories and had to run a distance equal with 5/6th of the stadium.

The winner was crowned with an olive branch and the legend says she gained strength from Hera after she had eaten the meat given from the cow sacrificed in the honour of the goddess.

The contribution of the Olympic games to the cultural course of Hellenism is huge. At Olympia, a very strong feeling of national awareness developed. The “Sacred Truce” gave unique opportunities for honest rivalry and healthy competition which reflected the ideals of the Greek culture in the best possible way. Rhetoricians, sophists, philoso-phers, poets, politicians and historians were involved with the Olympic ceremonies and poets like Pindar, Simonides and Bacchylides were the representatives of the ancient athletic poetry. The sculpture depicted, in the finest way, the athletic vigor and body perfection.
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was the supreme ruler of the gods and “the mortals”, protector of Greece and master of the weather. His symbols were the eagle and the oak tree.
Hera was Zeus’ third wife, protectress of marriage, mothers and home.
Athena was Zeus’ daughter, goddess of wisdom, guardian of all war heroes and of the city of Athens.
Apollo was Zeus’ son, god of the sun, music, healing and prophecy (his advice was sought at the oracle of Delphi).
Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo, goddess of hunting and the moon, guardian of women and cities.
Hermes was Zeus’ son, messenger of the gods, god of commerce, orators and writers, protector of flocks, thieves and travelers.
Ares was Zeus’ son, god of war, unpopular on Olympus and feared by the Greeks.
Aphrodite was Zeus’ daughter, goddess of love, beauty and gardens, and the most beautiful goddess in the Olympus.
Hephaestus was Zeus’ son, god of fire and industry.
Poseidon was Zeus’ brother, god of the seas, rivers and earthquakes.
Demeter was Zeus’ sister, goddess of agriculture, protectress of crops.
Hestia was Zeus’ elder sister, beloved goddess of fire and the earth, protectress of the house, family and cities.
Dionysus was Zeus's son by a mortal, god of wine, revelry and hospitality.
Asklepios was Apollo's son, god of healing.
Hades was ruler of the kingdom of the dead.
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