The Ancient Olympic Games of Greece
The first recorded Olympic Games took place in Olympia, in the beautiful region of Elias, in 776 BC. There is evidence however, to support the claim that the games had been taking place a lot earlier than 776 BC, but these were not as organised or held every four years, as the 776 BC games had been.
The name of each Olympiad was named after the competitor of the stadium race, which was the favourite of all the events. The first Olympiad was named Koroibos of Elias, as he was the winner of the stadium race in 776 BC.
Olympia was, and still is, a beautiful place, and many temples and statues were built. These were all built in dedication to Zeus, the Father of all Gods. Olympia also became a centre for religion in the Mycenaean period.
The temples that were built in Olympia were all for a reason, and were of importance. The temple of Zeus, had as its centrepiece, a gold and ivory statue of Zeus. Standing at about 12 meters in height, the statue was very impressive. The statue, sculptured by Phidias, was seen as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Also near to the temple of Zeus, was the wild olive tree from which the wreath crowns were made and presented to the winners of the events. Legend has it, this tree was planted by Herakles (Hercules).
In the beginning, the games consisted of only one event, the running of the stadium, and lasted for just one day. However, towards the 5th century, the games were extended to five days, and more events were also added.
From 729 BC the participants of the games had to compete in the nude in order to prevent any cheating, and also in the interest of safety. Originally, only Greeks born males, who had not committed murder or heresy, where allowed to take part in the games. However, later on, Romans were also permitted to take part. Women were forbidden to compete, and were even banned from entering the stadium to watch the games.
The Importance of the Olympic Games
The Olympic Games were especially important to the Greeks, and it was the games that unified national, spiritual and racial beliefs. The ancient Greeks were also very competitive people, and all strived to be the best. Winning an Olympic event was the highest honour people could achieve.
The fact that the winners were presented with a simple olive wreath crown also illustrates the fact that the participants taking part were competing for themselves, and not any material rewards.
The ancient games were also held in high regard for social reasons, as well as the athletic side. Poets and writers were given the chance to present their works to a large audience, members of different city-states would have the chance to meet and talk with members of other city-states.
Leaders of the city-states would also come to discuss any personal differences that they were having with each other. The games were seen as a festival, and it was not acceptable for any negative issues or situations to occur during this time.
Even during times of war and battle, and differences were put aside, so that the Olympics would be conducted in a peaceful manner. Even the games of 480 BC took place in the middle of the Persian War.
It is from this ideal that the Olympic Truce was formed. During the times of the Olympic games, messengers were sent all over the Greek world with details of the dates of the games, and called for a truce between any parties conducting in any hostile activities. There was also a ban in any death penalties being carried out during this time.
The Demise of the Olympic Games
In 146 AD when most of Greece fell under Roman rule, the value of the Olympic games started to diminish. The games though still continued, and were enjoyed by those who attended.
However, in 394 AD the last games were held. Under the orders of Emperor Theodosius I, the games were abolished. This was because the taking part in any worshipping of idols was forbidden. The Olympic games would have to wait at least 1500 years before they were revived again.
The Modern Olympic Games
It wasn't until after efforts by French Baron Pierre De Coubertin and the Greek Dimitrios Vikelas that the games were brought back to life after nearly 1500 years in the wilderness. De Doubertin believed that sport was a very strong power that could inspire a feeling of unity and peace among the many nations of the world. He believed that this desire could be brought about with the revival of the Olympic Games.
After an unsuccessful attempt at reviving the games, he finally achieved his ambition. In 1894 at an international congress, that was actually devised for the study of amateur sports, he voiced his view on the revival of the Olympic Games, and was delighted when the other countries participating in the congress agreed with him. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was founded that year.
Held in Athens in 1896 at the Panatheniac Stadium, the games heralded a welcomed return to the original beliefs and virtues of the ancient games. With competitors from 14 nations, the games commenced on April 6th and came to a climax on 15th April. There were 43 events, which were competed in by 245 athletes, all of whom were male.
Probably the biggest cheer of the 1896 Olympics was when a Greek Shepard, Spiridon Louis, was victorious in the most popular of all events, the marathon. The athletes from the United States were also big winners in these games, winning 9 events. What is even more remarkable regarding this is that their Olympic squad barely made it to Athens in time to compete.
The Olympics have taken place every four years, since the first games in 1896. However, even the ideals of the Olympic Truce could not prevent the games being cancelled during the first and second world wars. The games cancelled were the 1916 Olympics, due to be held in Berlin, the 1940 games to be held in Tokyo and the 1944 games to be held in Helsinki.
The Winter Olympic Games were introduced in 1924, and also took place every four years. However, it wasn't until 1992 that it was decided that the Olympic and Winter Olympic games would not take place in the same calendar year. The Winter Games were moved forward two years to 1994, and would continue to take place at four-year intervals.
Since the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, the games have continued to grow throughout the years and more and more nations have been taking part, as well as more events being included. During the 1896 games, 14 nations took part. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, 199 nations took part. In 1896 there were 245 athletes (all male), in 2000 there were 10,651 (4069 women and 6582 men). And in 1896 there were 43 events, compared to the 300 events at the 2000 Olympics.
The 2004 Athens Olympics
The Athens 2004 Olympic Games took place amongst much scepticism and criticism whereby many believed that the Games would not be a success, that Athens was far too behind in it's schedule, and that the whole thing would be a shambles.
The Olympic Games of Athens were a huge success, and showed to the world, that the Greeks, CAN achieve what they set out to do. The Athens Games showed that, though the world we live in today is much different from how it was over 100 years ago when the first Modern Olympic Games were held here in Athens, people from all corners of the globe, can come together as one, and unite under the flag of sport and peace.
The Athens 2004 Games were a showpiece to the world, of the modern city of Athens, and the continuous growth of Greece as a whole. Greece can no longer be seen as country living in it's past, when it's present and future holds so much. With some of the most modern sporting facilities and stadiums in the world, Athens delivered on it's promise to host one of the most exciting, memorable and safe Games in recent years.
The Greeks have shown that their hospitality and warmth still burns strong, and that everybody is treated as equal. During the Athens Games, areas such as Plaka and Monastiraki have been filled with people from all nationalities and all walks of life.
The world came to Greece, and Greece welcomed the world to it's doorstep. The Olympic Games came home, and did so in style.