Ancient Olympic Games
by Jason Engelman

The entrance to the stadium where the games were held.

        In 776 B.C., a new era began for athletes. The first Olympic Games were held in Olympia, Greece. The Olympic Games we have come to watch today are only part of what the first Olympic Games used to be. In the ancient games people also competed in poetry, mathematics, architecture and sculpture. At the first Olympic Games there were only foot races as sports events, but as the Olympics grew more popular events like wrestling, boxing, chariot racing, horse racing, javelin tossing, Discus throwing, and the Pankration were added.

Aerial view of Olympia as it looks today.

        As the games grew larger certain events were given in honor of individual Olympian gods and godesses. The sport that most pleased Zeus, for example, was the Pankration. The Pankration was the true test of a man. It was a mixture of boxing and wrestling, and to compete you had to be good at both events. There were rules, but not many.  For example, you couldn't gouge your opponent's eyes, ears, or nose with your hands, but the fighting continued until someone was unconscious. The Greeks beleived it pleased the mighty Zeus that men were willing to beat themselves up just to please him.

Sanctuary of Zeus, as it use to look in ancient times.

        Wrestling was very brutal. The rules stated that wrestlers were not allowed to bite, slap, punch or gouge your opponents eyes, but everything else was allowed. In Boxing, the competitors didn't cover their hands and would fight until someone was unconscious. Chariot racing was simple, don't try to kill your opponent. Horseracing was like the "Kentucky Derby," except that you could knock your opponents off, and it didn't matter if the riders finished. Even a riderless horse could win. Foot racing was pretty much like track is now. They ran anywhere from 1/4 of a mile to two miles in an event.

This was the highest honor medal, that you could earn
because it has the lightning bolt of Zeus on it.

        The Olympics were originally played because the Greeks wanted to please their gods and goddesses. Back in those days it was an honor to be an athlete because it was pleasing to Zeus.  During these sacred games honoring the gods, all Greek city-states even stopped fighting and many men (women were not allowed) came to watch or participate in the games. Because the Olympics were religious ceremonies people came from as far away as Spain to compete, or even to just watch the games. Many people did this so they could return home to boast and tell stories of their athletes greatness at the Olympics. The Olympics were not only a way to show athletic skill, bravery and competitive spirit, but they were also another way to show how proud people were of their country.
       The ancient Olympics were also a way to settle arguments between city-states. For some people to be in the Olympics was a life long dream. They were able to serve their gods proudly on the sacred land around Mt. Olympia where the Olympian gods and goddesses lived. A big difference between the ancient Olympic games and our modern ones is that women were not even allowed to attend the ancient games. They could not compete like the women can these days. Apparently, Zeus, the father of all the gods, was pleased to see the bravery displayed only by men.
        The ancient Olympic Games were ended by the Roman Emperor Theodosius, who was Christian, and felt that games dedicated to pagan gods should be stopped The Olympic Games were not played again until the early 20th Century.
         The first modern Olympics were began in 1916 and had 41 countries competing in these first modern games. That has incressed to 197 countries now, and is quite popular

This is the map of where the competitors came from.

        . Although today the Olympics only happen every four years, in ancient times they held the games every two years. Today, there are two Olympic competions, one for winter games and one for summer games.  Althought at first the modern games were only for amatur athletes, today professionals are also being allowed to compete.  All over the world athletes train for the greatest athletic games on earth, the Olympic Games.

The Greeks celebrated the games
on decorations such as found on this vase.


"Olympics 2" at:, 5/2/00/

"Perseus Project" at:, 5/4/00

"Museum of Archaeology" at:, 5/3/00

Picture Credits:

Picture #1 - "Stadium Entrance" From:

Picture #2 - "Olympia" From:

Picture #3 - "Temple of Zeus" From:

Picture #4 - "First Medal" From:

Picture #5 - "Map" From:

Picture #6 - "Chariots" From: