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5/12/2012

Olympic Games in ancient Greece.


The games were held to be one of the two central rituals in Ancient Greece, the other being the much older religious festival, the Eleusinian Mysteries.
The games started in Olympia, Greece, in a sanctuary site for the Greek deities near the towns of
Elis and Pisa (both in Elis on the peninsula of Peloponnesos).

The first Games began as an annual foot race of young women in competition for the position of the priestess for the goddess, Hera and a second race was instituted for a consort for the priestess who would participate in the religious traditions at the temple.


The Heraea Games, the first recorded competition for women in the Olympic Stadium, were held as early as the sixth century BC.

It originally consisted of foot races only, as did the competition for males.
Some texts, including Pausanias's Description of Greece, c. AD 175, state that Hippodameia gathered a group known as the "Sixteen Women" and made them administrators of the Heraea Games, out of gratitude for her marriage to Pelops.
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Other texts related to the Elis and Pisa conflict indicate that the "Sixteen Women" were peacemakers from Pisa and Elis and, because of their political competence, became administrators of the Heraea.

Being the consort of Hera in Classical Greek mythology, Zeus was the father of the deities in the pantheon of that era. The Sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia housed a 13-metre-high (43 ft) statue in ivory and gold of Zeus that had been sculpted by Phidias circa 445 BC.

This statue was one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World. By the time of the Classical Greek culture, in the fifth and fourth centuries BC, the games were restricted to male participants.
The historian Ephorus, who lived in the fourth century BC, is believed to have established the use of Olympiads to count years.

The Olympic Games were held at four-year intervals, and later, the Greek method of counting the years even referred to these Games, using the term Olympiad for the period between two Games. Previously, every Greek state used its own dating system, something that continued for local events, which led to confusion when trying to determine dates.

For example, Diodorus states that there was a solar eclipse in the third year of the 113th Olympiad, which must be the eclipse of 316 BC. This gives a date of (mid-summer) 765 BC for the first year of the first Olympiad.

Nevertheless, there is disagreement among scholars as to when the Games began.
The only competition held then was, according to the later Greek traveller Pausanias who wrote in 175 AD., the stadion race, a race over about 190 metres (620 ft), measured after the feet of Hercules.

The word stadium is derived from this foot race.
The Greek tradition of athletic nudity was introduced in 720 BC, either by the Spartans or by the Megarian Orsippus, and this was adopted early in the Olympics as well.

Several groups fought over control of the sanctuary at Olympia, and hence the Games, for prestige and political advantage. Pausanias later writes that in 668 BC, Pheidon of Argos was commissioned by the town of Pisa to capture the sanctuary from the town of Elis, which he did and then personally controlled the Games for that year.
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The next year, Elis regained control.
The Olympic Games were part of the Panhellenic Games, four separate games held at two- or four-year intervals, but arranged so that there was at least one set of games every year. The Olympic Games were more important and more prestigious than the Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian Games.

Finally, the Olympic Games were suppressed, either by Theodosius I in AD 393 or his grandson Theodosius II in AD 435, as part of the campaign to impose Christianity as a state religion. The site of Olympia remained until an earthquake destroyed it in the 6th century AD.

The Olympic Games (Greek: τὰ Ὀλύμπιαta Olympia; Modern Greek: Ὀλυμπιακοὶ Ἀγῶνες (Katharevousa), Ολυμπιακοί Αγώνες (Dimotiki) i– Olympiakoi Agones) were a series of athletic competitions held for representatives of various city-states of Ancient Greece held in honor of Zeus.

The exact origins of the Games are shrouded in myth and legend but records indicate that they began in 776 BC in Olympia in Greece. They were celebrated until 394 AD when they were suppressed by Theodosius I as part of the campaign to impose Christianity as a state religion.

The Games were usually held every four years, or olympiad, as the unit of time came to be known. During a celebration of the Games, an Olympic Truce was enacted so that athletes could travel from their countries to the Games in safety. The prizes for the victors were wreaths of laurel leaves.

The Games became a political tool used by city-states to assert dominance over their rivals. Politicians would announce political alliances at the Games, and in times of war, priests would offer sacrifices to the gods for victory.

The Games were also used to help spread Hellenistic culture throughout the Mediterranean. The Olympics also featured religious celebrations and artistic competitions.

A great statue of Zeus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world was erected at Olympia to preside over the Games, though it no longer stands. Sculptors and poets would congregate each olympiad to display their works of art to would-be patrons.

The ancient Olympics were rather different from the modern Games. There were fewer events, and only free men who spoke Greek could compete (although a woman Bilistiche is also mentioned as a winner). As long as they met the entrance criteria, athletes from any country or city-state were allowed to participate.
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The Games were always held at Olympia rather than alternating to different locations as is the tradition with the modern Olympic Games. There is one major commonality between the ancient and modern Games, the victorious athletes are honored, feted, and praised.

Their deeds were heralded and chronicled so that future generations could appreciate their accomplishments.
The Ancient Olympics lasted over a thousand years; they were around when Homer composed the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Homer’s epics provide the earliest and greatest description of athletic competitions in Western literature. It is in Homer that we first find the true spirit of sport, the desire to be ever the best and to excel all other men, the joy in the effort.

Homer endorses the earliest Greek values and etiquette of sport,an aristocratic ideology of action that reinforced the warrior’s heroic or aristocratic code. Homeric sport wasn’t sport for its own sake. Contests were a mechanism for status definition and display, and the awarding and winning of prizes confirmed the status of both victor and host.

Homer's heroes were usually eager to demonstrate their talents in contests, which functioned as a mechanism for status definition and display.

The main setting for sport in the epics was funeral games (when a hero died, funeral games were held to celebrate his honor), as in the contests organized by Achilles for Patroclus in Iliad 23. In funeral games or social games, heroes were invited and expected to compete.

Yet in some instances heroes declined or evaded invitations or challenges to compete. They were excused or abstained from competition, becoming spectators.

Not to compete, not to accept an invitation to show one’s excellence, was unusual and might be seen as tantamount to renouncing one’s claim to status. Non-competition demanded explanation and justification. Achilles’ prizes mainly come from and are analogous to, war spoils; they are trophies, symbols of victory, over an opponent (such as the armor of a fallen foe).
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Homer’s announcement and awarding of athletic prizes, which were essential to the games, derive from gift giving rituals. Prizes allowed for the peaceful redistribution of a dead man’s prestige goods or the formation or renewal of social ties.

To the Greeks it was important to root the Olympic Games in mythology. During the time of the ancient Games their origins were attributed to the gods, and competing legends persisted as to who actually was responsible for the Games' genesis.

These origin of traditions have become nearly impossible to untangle, yet a chronology and patterns have arisen that help people understand the story behind the Games.

The earliest myths regarding the origin of the Games are recounted by the Greek historian, Pausanias. According to the story, the dactyl Herakles (not to be confused with the son of Zeus) and two of his brothers raced at Olympia.

He crowned the victor with a laurel wreath, which explains the traditional prize given to Olympic champions. The other Olympian gods (so named because they lived permanently on Mount Olympus), would also engage in wrestling, jumping and running contests.

Another myth, this one occurring after the aforementioned myth, is attributed to Pindar. He claims the festival at Olympia involved Pelops, king of Olympia and eponymous hero of the Peloponnesus, and Herakles, the son of Zeus.

The story goes that after completing his labors, Herakles established an athletic festival to honor his father. Pelops, using trickery, and the help of Poseidon, won a chariot race against a local king and claimed the king's daughter, Hippodamia as his prize.

A final myth, also attributed to Pausanias is dated by the historian at 776 BC. For some reason the Games of previous millennia were discontinued and then revived by Lycurgus of Sparta, Iphitos of Elis, and Cleoisthenes of Pisa at the behest of the Oracle of Delphi who claimed that the people had strayed from the gods, which had caused a plague and constant war.

Restoration of the Games would end the plague, usher in a time of peace, and signal a return to a more traditional lifestyle.
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 The patterns that emerge from these myths are that the Greeks believed the Games had their roots in religion, that athletic competition was tied to worship of the gods, and the revival of the ancient Games was intended to bring peace, harmony and a return to the origins of Greek life.

Since these myths were documented by historians like Pausanias, who lived during the reign of Marcus Aurelius in the 160s AD, it is likely that these stories are more fable than fact.
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