The Olympic Games

The Olympic Games are a tradition of athletic events that take place every four

years. They are a custom that was started many years ago, but are currently taken for

granted. People from all over the world tune their televisions and radios to watch and

listen to the events, but never question their existence. When were the Olympic games

started? What was the first event? How did it grow? Where were the first games held?

Why did they start? Did they have any political, social, or religious meanings?

The games started about 3,500 years ago in the country of Greece. The first

games were not called the Olympic games but the Classical games. They were held every

four years as they are today. They were different from today?s games, in that they were

held at four different city-states. At each city-state, the games were given different names.

They were the Olympic Games, held at Olympia; the Pythian Games at Delphi; the

Nemean Games at Nemea; and the Isthmian Games at Corinth. These games later spread

to over 150 cities as far as Rome, Naples, Odessus, Antioch, and Alexandria. Olympia

still has records of its champions over 776 BC to AD 217. The champions of Olympia

came from about a dozen cities in Greece, but mainly from Sparta and Athens. The first

Olympic Games only consisted of one event. The first event was a stade won by

Coroebus of Elis. A stade was a foot race of about 210 yards. Later, horse racing was

added next followed by a long-distance race, wrestling, and the pentathlon. The first

games held in Olympia were in honor of Zeus.

The games, like all the Greek games, was an intrinsic part of a religious festival. Religion

was the basis of a tradition that has out lasted time. All the games held in Greece were in

the honor of one of their acknowledged gods. The first Olympic Games lasted only one

day, but with the addition of events, the games were extended to four days of events and

the fifth day was dedicated to a religious closing. All the events were competed in the

total nude. This was to glorify the gods. It was a symbol of the perfect and pure body

being offered to the god. Religion was a major part of the Greek culture. Thus, when

games were held in tribute to gods they were well attended. Evidence proves that the

games were grand celebration throughout Greece. There was even a sacred truce, or

ekecheiria, that guaranteed athletes, officials, and spectators safe passage to Olympia. The

carrying of the torch was a very religious event. It consisted of runners racing through the

city attempting to lay a burning torch at the feet of the altar of the designated god. The

winner was held with high regards. Religious ceremonies often followed the race. Even

though the Olympic Games were held for religious reasons, most that we do not know, the

torch race was never practiced during the games. The awards given to the athletes were

far from expensive, but they were very honorable. The winner received crown of olive

branches intertwined that was placed on the victors head. They were no ordinary olive

branches, though, they were cut from the sacred olive tree. No one knows for sure where

the tree was located, but many assume it was located in the coliseum. The coliseum was

also designed to worship the gods. It contained a huge altar of Zeus at one end looking

over everything. On his sides were small altars of less significant gods and goddess.

Located in the middle of the track were many more gods and goddess with even less

importance. So even the architectural work of the games had religious meanings inscribed

in them.

Even though the Olympics were founded on religion, like everything else, it changed to a

matter of fame and fortune. The awards for the winners were initially more honorable

than monetary. This, however, changed over the years. An athlete ran for the pride of his

city-state, and in return the city-state took care of its winners. The games were financed

and officiated by one man, usually a very wealthy individual. When one of the athletes

from his city-state won he rewarded them with great wealth and fame. Other winners

became jealous of the monetary awards. In return for their services, they demanded a

ransom from their city-states when they were victorious. Some athletes were similar to

the athletes of today; play for the highest bidder. This could be a risk on their part,

however. The city-states took the games very seriously, and if