The first ancient Olympic Games can be traced back to 776 B.C and were celebrated until 393 A.D, according to historical records. The Games continued for twelve centuries and were dedicated to Olympian gods. Olympia became the site of these historic ancient games that sowed the seeds for the most coveted sporting international event of modern times, the Modern Olympics. The site of the Ancient Olympics is located in the western part of Peloponnese. According to Greek mythology, Peloponnese is the island of Pelops, the founder of the Olympic Games.
Olympia, Greece is the sanctuary site for the ancient Greek gods. The central part of Olympia was dominated by the majestic temple of Zeus. The ancient games enjoyed a secular tradition and aimed at securing good relations between the cities of Greece and showing physical qualities and evolution of the performances accomplished by the youth. The Olympic Games were held in four years intervals at the ancient stadium in Olympia that could accommodate more than 40,000 spectators. The surrounding areas around the ancient Olympic stadium were continuously developed until the 4th century BC and were used as training grounds for athletes or to serve as homes for the Olympic judges.
The Ancient Olympics were not international in the modern sense of the term as they allowed only free men who spoke Greek to participate in the Games. The games none the less had a slight international spirit as they included participants from other Greek city-states. The Olympic Games originally consisted of just one competing event, the ‘stadion’ or ‘stade’ race. It was a short race covering the distance of 180 or 240 meters or the length of the stadium. It was only gradually that modifications were done in the stade race and other sporting events were also introduced. Other running events that were included in the Ancient Olympics were ‘dolichos’, which was similar to modern day marathon event; ‘diaulos’ or two stade race and ‘hoplitodromos’ in which the athlete wore the heavy armor partially or fully, carried a shield and was additionally equipped with greaves or a helmet. The other popular events that were added to ancient games were boxing, chariot racing, wrestling, pankration (similar to martial arts) and pentathlon that consisted of long jump, stadion, wrestling, javelin throw and discus throw.
In the ancient Olympics, married women were not allowed to participate in any way. However unmarried women could watch the Olympic Games. The ancient Olympic Games though did not allow female participants; an exception was made at the Herean Games, staged every four years to honor Hera, wife of Zeus, allowing female athletes to participate in the games. Kyniska, daughter of King Archidamos of Sparta, was the first woman to be listed as an Olympic victor in Antiquity. The events were judged by the ‘Herald’, a Hellanodikis (Greek Judge). The Olympic victors in ancient times received their awards immediately after the competition. The Herald after announcing the name of the victor placed a palm branch in his hands. Red ribbons were tied on his head and hands to symbolize his victory. The official award ceremony that took place on the last day of the Games was a proud day for the victor. From the elevated vestibule of the temple of Zeus, the Herald announced the name of the winner, his father’s name and the name of his homeland. The winner was finally honored with the Herald placing the sacred olive tree wreath or ‘kotinos’ on the winner’s head.
The Ancient Olympic Games were a series of athletic competitions held between various city states of ancient Greece in honor of the Olympian gods.