History of the Olympic games

Ancient Olympic Games

Фото: Зарождение Олимпийских игр

According to historical records, the first ancient Olympic Games can be traced back to 776 BC. They were dedicated to the Olympian gods and were staged on the ancient plains of Olympia. They continued for nearly 12 centuries, until Emperor Theodosius decreed in 393 A.D. that all such «pagan cults» be banned.

Olympia, the site of the ancient Olympic Games, is in the western part of the Peloponnese which, according to Greek mythology, is the island of «Pelops», the founder of the Olympic Games. Imposing temples, votive buildings, elaborate shrines and ancient sporting facilities were combined in a site of unique natural and mystical beauty. Olympia functioned as a meeting place for worship and other religious and political practices as early as the 10th century B. C. The central part of Olympia was dominated by the majestic temple of Zeus, with the temple of Hera parallel to it.
The origin of these Olympics is shrouded in mystery and legend. One of the most popular myths identifies Heracles and his father Zeus as the progenitors of the Games. According to legend, it was Heracles who first called the Games «Olympic» and established the custom of holding them every four years. A legend persists that after Heracles completed his twelve labors, he built the Olympic stadium as an honor to Zeus. Following its completion, he walked in a straight line for 200 steps and called this distance a «stadion» which later became a unit of distance.Фото: стадиона в Древней Олимпии

The Games were usually held every four years, or Olympiad, as the unit of time came to be known. During a celebration of the Games, an Olympic Truce was enacted so that athletes could travel from their countries to the Games in safety.

The ancient Olympic Games had an important position in the life of the Ancient Greeks. The Olympiad it was a time of union. The participants came from every corner of the Greek world to compete for the ultimate prize, the olive wreath and the return to their city-states as heroes. But the Olympic values apart from the victory, it was themselves which had the special meaning in the Games, the noble competition and effort to combine the body, mind, and will in a balanced whole.

Фото: Руины Храма Зевса в Древней Олимпии Фото: Реконструкция Храма Зевса в Древней Олимпии

Although the Olympics were originally held on the fields around the temple of Zeus, with the growth of the Games increased also the buildings of the Stadium. Finally Olympia had a stadium that offered enough space to 40,000 spectators. The purpose of Olympic Games was for young men to show their physical qualities and to enforce the relationship between the various Greek cities. Only Greek men were allowed to participate in the Olympics but not women.

The winners of the games were admired and immortalised through poems and statues. The prize for the winner was a crown of olive branches.

Victory Ceremonies

Фото: Оливковый венок надевался на голову победителя Олимпийских игр

The Olympic victor received his first awards immediately after the competition. Following the announcement of the winner’s name by the herald, a Hellanodikis (Greek judge) would place a palm branch in his hands, while the spectators cheered and threw flowers to him. Red ribbons were tied on his head and hands as a mark of victory.

The official award ceremony would take place on the last day of the Games, at the elevated vestibule of the temple of Zeus. In a loud voice, the herald would announce the name of the Olympic winner, his father’s name, and his homeland. Then, the Hellanodikis placed the sacred olive tree wreath, or kotinos, on the winner’s head.

The sports events

The ancient Olympic Games were initially a one-day event until 684 BC, when they were extended to three days. In the 5th century B.C., the Games were extended again to cover five days. The ancient Games included running, long jump, shot put, javelin, boxing, pankration and equestrian events.


The Pentathlon became an Olympic sport with the addition of wrestling in 708 B.C., and included the following:

Фото: Пентатлон 1Фото: Пентатлон 2

Running / Jumping / Discus Throw Running / Jumping / Discus Throw

RunningФото: Античные бегуны

Running contests included: 

  • the stade race, which was the pre-eminent test of speed, covering the Olympia track from one end to the other (200m foot race),
  • the diaulos (two stades — 400m foot race),
  • dolichos (ranging between 7 and 24 stades).


Фото: Античный метатель диска

Athletes used stone or lead weights called halteres to increase the distance of a jump. They held onto the weights until the end of their flight, and then jettisoned them backwards.

Discus throw

The discus was originally made of stone and later of iron, lead or bronze. The technique was very similar to today’s freestyle discus throw.


This was highly valued as a form of military exercise without weapons. It ended only when one of the contestants admitted defeat.


Фото: Античные боксеры 1
Фото: Античные боксеры 2

Boxers wrapped straps (himantes) around their hands to strengthen their wrists and steady their fingers. Initially, these straps were soft but, as time progressed, boxers started using hard leather straps, often causing disfigurement of their opponent’s face.


Фото: Античный Панкратион

This was a primitive form of martial art combining wrestling and boxing, and was considered to be one of the toughest sports. Greeks believed that it was founded by Theseus when he defeated the fierce Minotaur in the labyrinth.

Фото: Античная борьба

Equestrian events

These included horse races and chariot races and took place in the Hippodrome, a wide, flat, open space.

The Games gradually lost their importance when the Romans conquered Greece and when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Games were regarded more as a pagan celebration, and in 393 AD, the Emperor Theodosius banned them completely.