The ancient Olympic Games were held between 776 BC and 393 AD as part of a festival held in honor of the Greek God Zeus. Zeus is considered to be the father of all the other gods and goddesses worshiped in Greece. The ancient Olympic Games were held in Olympia, a site built specifically for the purpose in Peloponnesus, southern Greece. Participants and spectators from all over Greece attended the religious festival and games which were held 293 times before they were discontinued by Emperor Theodosius I who established Christianity and abolished all “pagan cults”.
Sports and sporting events were an integral part of ancient Greek culture. The first Olympic Games were in 776 BC. Only free men were allowed to participate and records of the victors were recorded punctiliously. Following the establishment of the Olympiad, other similar gaming events were held in sacred sites such as Delphi, Nemea, and Isthmia.
The judges, called the Hellanodikai led a religious procession from Elis to Olympia. Here a great sacrifice was held for Zeus. Prior to this invites were sent to various Greek city states through the ‘spondophoroi’. A temporary truce was declared between the states allowing participants and spectators to travel to Olympia. Great stadia and monuments were erected in Olympia. Each winner was awarded a Kotinos – a victory crown made of olive leaves – and also given an olive branch cut from the scared tree which is believed to have been planted by Hercules himself.
After the games were discontinued in 393 AD, it was in 1896 that the modern Olympic Games were restarted in Athens with 14 countries participating in them. The Olympic Games have now become a symbol of international unity, global peace, and sportsmanship. The modern Olympics were only canceled twice due to the world wars in 1916 and again in 1944.