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  • 1. PHYSICAL DEPARTMENT ANCIENT OLYMPIC GAMES 4º E.S.O. EUROPEAN SECTIONS
  • 2. ANCIENT OLYMPIC GAMES INDEX: ANCIENT OLYMPIC GAMES ....................................................................................................................... 3 1. 1.1. 2. INTRODUCTION .................................................................................................................................... 3 Events.................................................................................................................................................... 3 THE CONTEXT OF THE GAMES AND THE OLYMPIC SPIRIT ..................................................... 4 2.1. Why were they held at Olympia?....................................................................................................... 5 2.2. Were there other contests like the Olympics? ................................................................................. 6 2.3. Who could compete in the Olympics? .............................................................................................. 6 2.4. Were women allowed at the Olympics? ........................................................................................... 7 2.5. How were the athletes trained? ......................................................................................................... 7 2.6. What prizes did Olympic victors get? ............................................................................................... 7 2.7. What was the penalty for cheating? .................................................................................................. 8 2.8. Where did the marathon come from? .............................................................................................. 8 2.9. Spectators at the Games ..................................................................................................................... 9 Physical Department 2
  • 3. ANCIENT OLYMPIC GAMES ANCIENT OLYMPIC GAMES The ancient Olympics were rather different from the modern Games. There were fewer events, and only free men who spoke Greek could compete, instead of athletes from any country. Also, the games were always held at Olympia instead of moving around to different sites every time. Like our Olympics, though, winning athletes were heroes who put their home towns on the map. One young Athenian nobleman defended his political reputation by mentioning how he entered seven chariots in the Olympic chariot-race. This high number of entries made both the aristocrat and Athens look very wealthy and powerful. The ancient Olympic Games were initially a oneday 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. One difference between the ancient and modern Olympic Games is that the ancient games were played within the context of a religious festival. The Games were held in honor of Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, and a sacrifice of 100 oxen was made to the god on the middle day of the festival. Athletes prayed to the gods for victory, and made gifts of animals, produce, or small cakes, in thanks for their successes. According to legend, the altar of Zeus stood on a spot struck by a thunderbolt, which had been hurled by the god from his throne high atop Mount Olympus, where the gods assembled. Some coins from Elis had a thunderbolt design on the reverse, in honor of this legend. 1. INTRODUCTION In contrast to most Greek sites, Olympia is green and lush, amidst groves of trees. Here was the great Sanctuary of Zeus, the Altis, and the setting for the Olympic Games. For over a thousand years, in peace and war, the Greeks assembled here to celebrate this great festival. The simple crown of wild olive was sufficient to immortalize the victor, his family, and his city. The Greeks referred to the Sanctuary of Zeus as the Altis. The name Altis came from a corruption of the Elean word for grove, alsos . Sanctuaries were centers of religious worship where the Greeks built temples, treasuries, altars, statues, and other structures. The crowns made of olive leaves came from a wild olive tree in the Altis, which was called the olive of the Beautiful Crown. Olive trees, which supplied the Greeks with olive oil, olives, a cleaning agent for bathing, and a base for perfumes, were an important resource in the rocky and dry Greek environment. A Greek legend credited the hero Herakles (Hercules) with introducing the olive tree to Greece. 1.1. Events The ancient Games included running, long jump, shot put, javelin, boxing, pankration and equestrian events. Physical Department 3
  • 4. THE CONTEXT OF THE GAMES AND THE OLYMPIC SPIRIT  Pentathlon The Pentathlon became an Olympic sport with the addition of wrestling in 708 B.C., and included the following: Running / Jumping / Discus Throw  Running 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).  Jumping 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.  Wrestling This was highly valued as a form of military exercise without weapons. It ended only when one of the contestants admitted defeat.  Boxing 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.  Pankration 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.  Equestrian events These included horse races and chariot races and took place in the Hippodrome, a wide, flat, open space. 2. THE CONTEXT OF THE GAMES AND THE OLYMPIC SPIRIT Today, the Olympic Games are the world's largest pageant of athletic skill and competitive spirit. They are also displays of nationalism, commerce and politics. These two opposing elements of the Olympics are not a modern invention. The conflict between the Olympic movement's high ideals and the commercialism or political acts which accompany the Games has been noted since ancient times. Physical Department 4
  • 5. Why were they held at Olympia? Sotades at the ninety-ninth Festival was victorious in the long race and proclaimed a Cretan, as in fact he was. But at the next Festival he made himself an Ephesian, being bribed to do so by the Ephesian people. For this act he was banished by the Cretans. Pausanias, Description of Greece , 6.18.6 Map of some cities which sent competitors to the Olympics in the 5th century B.C. The ancient Olympic Games, part of a major religious festival honoring Zeus, the chief Greek god, were the biggest event in their world. They were the scene of political rivalries between people from different parts of the Greek world, and the site of controversies, boasts, public announcements and humiliations. 2.1. Why were they held at Olympia? Olympia was one of the oldest religious centers in the ancient Greek world. Since athletic contests were one way that the ancient Greeks honored their gods, it was logical to hold a recurring athletic competition at the site of a major temple. Also, Olympia is convenient geographically to reach by ship, which was a major concern for the Greeks. Athletes and spectators traveled from Greek colonies as far away as modernday Spain, the Black Sea, or Egypt. An international truce among the Greeks was declared for the month before the Olympics to allow the athletes to reach Olympia safely. The judges had the authority to fine whole cities and ban their athletes from competition for breaking the truce. The Spartans once invaded Elis (the territory which included Olympia) after the Olympic truce had been declared. The Eleans demanded a large fine based on the number of soldiers in the advancing army and refused to allow any Spartan competitors during that Olympiad. Physical Department 5
  • 6. Were there other contests like the Olympics? 2.2. Were there other contests like the Olympics? There were 3 other major games which were held on 2- or 4-year cycles: the Isthmean Games at Corinth, the Pythian Games at Delphi, and the Nemean Games at Nemea. Because it started 200 years before the other competitions, the Olympics remained the most famous athletic contest in the ancient Greek world. Many athletes competed at several athletic festivals. Inscriptions on victor's statues at Olympia often describe victories in 2, 3, or even all 4 major athletic festivals. Pausanias's description of Olympian architecture includes a list of the more famous victors' statues, and summaries of their inscriptions such as this one: Delphi,Stadium: East end from WPhotograph by Michael Bennett "Polycles...likewise won a victory with a four-horse chariot, and his statue holds a ribbon in the right hand...as the inscription on him says, [he] also won the chariot-race at Pytho, the Isthmus and Nemea." (Pausanias 6.1.7) 2.3. Who could compete in the Olympics? The Olympics were open to any free-born Greek in the world. There were separate mens' and boys' divisions for the events. Women were not allowed to compete in the Games themselves. However, they could enter equestrian events as the owner of a chariot team or an individual horse, and win victories that way. Physical Department 6
  • 7. Were women allowed at the Olympics? 2.4. Were women allowed at the Olympics? Not only were women not permitted to compete personally, married women were also barred from attending the games, under penalty of death. Athletic competitions for women did exist in ancient Greece. The most famous was a maidens' footrace in honor of the goddess Hera, which was held at the Olympic stadium. There were 3 separate races for girls, teenagers, and young women. The length of their racecourse was shorter than the men's track; 5/6 of a stade (about 160 m.) instead of a full stade (about 192 m.). The winners received olive crowns just like Olympic victors. 2.5. How were the athletes trained? Athletics were a key part of education in ancient Greece. Many Greeks believed that developing the body was equally important as improving the mind for overall health. Also, regular exercise was important in a society where men were always needed for military service. Plato's Laws specifically mentions how athletics improved military skills. Greek youth therefore worked out in the wrestling-school (palaestra) whether they were serious Olympic contenders or not. Olympia,Palaestra: Eastern portico from N Photograph by Michael Bennett The palaestra (wrestling-school) was one of the most popular places for Greek men of all ages to socialize. Many accounts of Greek daily life include scenes in these wrestlingschools, such as the opening of Plato's Charmides. Young men worked with athletic trainers who used long sticks to point out incorrect body positions and other faults. Trainers paid close attention to balancing the types of physical exercise and the athlete's diet. The Greeks also thought that harmonious movement was very important, so athletes often exercised to flute music. 2.6. What prizes did Olympic victors get? A victor received a crown made from olive leaves, and was entitled to have a statue of himself set up at Olympia. Although he did not receive money at the Olympics, the victor was treated much like a modern sports celebrity by his home city. His success increased the fame and reputation of his community in the Greek world. It was common for victors to receive benefits such as having all their meals at public expense or front-row seats at the theater and other public Physical Department 7
  • 8. What was the penalty for cheating? festivals. One city even built a private gym for their Olympic wrestling champion to exercise in. When an Olympic victor from Crotona re-entered the Games as a native of Syracuse (to impress the ruler of Syracuse) and won both times, the citizens of Crotona were so angry about being robbed of their rightful victories that they tore down the athlete's statue in their city and condemned his house to be a prison. Who were the Olympic judges? Unlike the modern Olympics, judges did not come from all over the Greek world, but were drawn from Elis, the local region which included Olympia. The number of judges increased to 10 as more events were added to the Olympics. Even though the judges were all Eleans, local Elean Greeks were still allowed to compete in the Olympics. The Elean people had such a reputation for fairness that an Elean cheating at the Games was a shock to other Greeks. 2.7. What was the penalty for cheating? Anyone who violated the rules was fined by the judges. The money was used to set up statues of Zeus, the patron god of the Games at Olympia. In addition to using bribes, other offenses included deliberately avoiding the training period at Olympia. One athlete claimed that bad winds kept his ship from arriving in time, but was later proved to have spent the training period traveling around Greece winning prize money in other competitions. Another athlete was so intimidated by his opponents that he left the Games the day before he was to compete, and was fined for cowardice. 2.8. Where did the marathon come from? The marathon was never one of the ancient Olympic events, although its origin dates back to another episode in ancient Greek history. In the 5th century B.C., the Persians invaded Greece, landing at Marathon, a small town about 26 miles from the city of Athens. The Athenian army was seriously outnumbered by the Persian army, so the Athenians sent messengers to cities all over Greece asking for help. The traditional origin of the marathon comes from the story how a herald named Phidippides ran the 26 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory and died on the spot. Phidippides was sent by the Athenians to Sparta to ask for help; a man named Eukles announced the victory to the Athenians and then died. Later sources confused the story of Phidippides, also called "Philippides," with that of Eukles. Although most ancient authors do not support this legend, the story has persisted and is the basis for the modern-day marathon. Physical Department 8
  • 9. Spectators at the Games 2.9. Spectators at the Games The Olympic festival brought huge numbers of visitors to Olympia. Most people slept outside, under the stars, although the wealthy and members of official delegations erected elaborate tents and pavilions. Merchants, craftsmen, and food vendors arrived to sell their wares. The busy schedule included religious ceremonies, including sacrifices; speeches by well-known philosophers; poetry recitals; parades; banquets; and victory celebrations. Physical Department 9