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Ancient Olympic Games

The Olympic Games originated in Ancient Greece over 2,700 years ago. Ancient Greeks held many athletic events in honor of their gods. The Olympics are believed to have originated in the city-state of Olympia, where the games were held as part of a religious festival in honor of Zeus, the king of Greek gods. The first Olympics were held in around 776 BC in Olympia, near Elis.
The Olympic Games and athletic tournaments of ancient Greece were held every four years.

The Legends
In ancient Greece a number of legends were recounted related to the origins of the Olympic Games. Zeus is believed to have thrown his thunderbolt and marked the spot in Olympia where his altar was later built and the festival held to commemorate the event.

According to the legend of Pelops, Oinomaos, the king of Pisa had a beautiful daughter, Hippodameia, whose husband was prophesied to be the nemesis of Oinomaos. When Pelops arrived to woo Hippodameia, she fell in love with him and to save him from her father’s wrath, she sabotaged her father’s chariot. Oinomaos pursued Pelops as he carried Hippodameia away but fell from his chariot and died. Pelops won the race and married Hippodameia. Pelops then started the tradition of racing chariots, in reverence to the gods who had helped him. These are the origins of the ancient Olympic Games, some believe.

According to another legend, Hercules sought the help of Goddess Athena in cleansing the stables of King Augeus of Elis. This was one of his twelve labors. He then diverted the flow of the river Alpheios and completed the task. The Olympic Games of ancient Greece are believed to have been initiated by Hercules to celebrate his success.

According to yet another legend, Iphitos, a descendent of Hercules, was instructed by the Oracle of Delphi to initiate the games and bring peace to the warring Greek city-states.

Events in the Ancient Olympics
The earliest ancient Olympic Games were held for only one day. But as the popularity of the games grew, the games were held for five days. The earliest event to feature in the Ancient Olympics was a sprint across the length of the stadium. With time a number of other events were included in the games. Wrestling, boxing, and chariot racing were popular events. A number of wrestling events, quite different from the modern day wrestling, were held. Modern events of the Olympic Games such as javelin throw and discus throw also find their origins in the ancient Olympic Games. The equestrian events of the ancient Olympic Games were very popular. The horses of Greek women were allowed to participate while the women themselves wer

e prohibited from attending the games. The Spartan princess, Cynisca entered her horses in the four-horse race of the 396 BC and 392 BC. The victory of the horses won her much repute. Day three of the five day Olympic Games was characterized by the Hecatombe, a sacrifice of hundred oxen by the Eleans. The Pentathlon, a combination of long jump, javelin throw, discus throw, wrestling and running, was also part of the highlights this day.

The Olive Branch
The winners of the ancient Olympic Games were crowned with a laurel of an olive branch. The olive wreath is believed to be made from the wild olive tree planted by Hercules. In ancient Greece the city-states were often at war. Minions were sent out from Olympia to announce the commencement of the games in honor of Zeus about a month before the games began. They carried an olive branch with them. The olive branch signified a temporary truce allowing the participants and spectators to travel to Olympia and back in safety. The olive branch later became a popular symbol of truce and peace.

Women in Ancient Olympics
Women were not allowed to participate in the ancient Olympic Games. Unmarried young women were allowed to attend as spectators but attendance was a punishable offence for married women. Women were allowed to own and train the horses that participated in the chariot races, though. The festival of Hera was also held in Olympia every four years. This festival, the Heraia, included athletic events and maiden women participated in these.

In 393 AD, Theodosius I, the Emperor of the Roman Empire embraced Christianity and abolished all pagan practices including the ancient Olympic Games. In 462 AD, Theodosius II demolished the temple of Zeus in Olympia. With the site falling into ruin due to natural disasters, the Olympic Games were discontinued