Meredith collects data to deliver the best content, services, and personalized digital ads. We partner with third party advertisers, who may use tracking technologies to collect information about your activity on sites and applications across devices, both on our sites and across the Internet. The Olympic Games originated long ago in ancient Greece. Exactly when the Games were first held and what circumstances led to their creation is uncertain. We do know, however, that the Games were a direct outgrowth of the values and beliefs of Greek society. The Greeks idealized physical fitness and mental discipline, and they believed that excellence in those areas honored Zeus, the greatest of all their gods. One legend about the origin of the Olympic Games revolves around Zeus. It was said Zeus once fought his father, Kronos, for control of the world. They battled atop a mountain that overlooked a valley in southwestern Greece. After Zeus defeated his father, a temple and immense statue were built in the valley below to honor him.
Although we do not know just when the Games were first played, the earliest recorded Olympic competition occurred in 776 B. This was the start of the first Olympiad, the four-year period by which the Greeks recorded their history. Athletic competition became so important to the Greeks that the Olympic festivals were a peaceful influence on the warlike city-states. Sparta was famous for the strict military training of its citizens. But it would wait until the Games were over before sending fighters into battle. For the first 13 Olympic Games, the only event was the one-stade run. But over the years, new sports were added to the Games. The hoplitodrome, for instance, was a footrace the athletes ran wearing full armor.
The pancration was introduced in 648 B. In addition to the pre-existing religious shrines and altars, a vast complex of buildings and structures was constructed at Olympia to accommodate the growing number of sports and athletes. Chariot races, first run in 680 B. Boxers and wrestlers trained in the Palaestra, which was adjacent to the gymnasium. Women were forbidden, on penalty of death, even to see the Games. Rhodes successfully defied the death penalty. When her husband died, she continued the training of their son, a boxer.
At first, the Games were strictly for Greek citizens. All athletes were required to take an oath that they would observe all the rules and standards. In spite of the luxurious facilities offered to athletes, all had to remain amateurs. That is, they had to pay their own expenses, and they could receive no monetary awards. Winners of the Games were crowned with wreaths of olive leaves and hailed as heroes. Perhaps the greatest athlete of the ancient Games was Milo of Croton, a wrestler who lived in the 500’s B. He won the wrestling crown six times, and he was said to be so powerful that he could carry a full-grown bull on his shoulders. The ancient Olympic Games also honored, and inspired, artists. The poet Pindar wrote many odes in praise of the Games’ winners. The Olympic buildings were prime examples of the beauty of Greek architecture, and the remains of Zeus’ great statue bear the signature of the famous Athenian sculptor and architect Phidias.
Like the athletic champions, artistic champions were awarded olive wreaths and great acclaim. After Rome conquered Greece in the 100’s B. Competition for the common good was ignored by the glory hunters, who were willing to use any trick or deceit to win. 67 the emperor Nero brought his own cheering section and competed in events himself. Even though he fell from his chariot during the race, he was named the champion. In 1829, German archaeologists began uncovering Olympia. Today, the site of the ancient Olympic Games is only a shadow of its former glory. Many of the building foundations remain, but few walls and pillars still stand, and the stadium where footraces were held long ago is now just a broad stretch of barren ground. Archaeologist: person who studies past human life and culture by finding and looking at remains like graves, buildings, and pottery.