Published on April 14, 2008
The Ancient Olympics: The Ancient Olympics The Ancient Olympics: The Ancient Olympics The ancient Olympics were rather different from the modern Games. There were fewer events, and only free men who spoke Greek could compete, instead of athletes from any country. Also, the games were always held at Olympia instead of moving around to different sites every time. The Ancient Olympics: The Ancient Olympics Like our Olympics, though, winning athletes were heroes who put their home towns on the map. One young Athenian nobleman defended his political reputation by mentioning how he entered seven chariots in the Olympic chariot-race. This high number of entries made both the aristocrat and Athens look very wealthy and powerful. The Olympic Spirit: The Olympic Spirit Today, the Olympic Games are the world's largest pageant of athletic skill and competitive spirit. They are also displays of nationalism, commerce and politics. These two opposing elements of the Olympics are not a modern invention. The conflict between the Olympic movement's high ideals and the commercialism or political acts which accompany the Games has been noted since ancient times. The Olympic States: The Olympic States Modern Times: Modern Times According to the Atlanta Olympics organizers, 10,700 athletes from 197 countries will competed at the 1996 Summer Games, and over 2 million people went to Atlanta to see them. Zeus: Zeus The ancient Olympic Games, part of a major religious festival honoring Zeus, the chief Greek god, were the biggest event in their world. They were the scene of political rivalries between people from different parts of the Greek world, and the site of controversies, boasts, public announcements and humiliations. In this section you can explore the context of the Olympics and read stories about the participants and spectators who came to Olympia from all over the Greek world. Equestrian Chariot Racing: Equestrian Chariot Racing There were both 2-horse chariot and 4-horse chariot races, with separate races for chariots drawn by foals. Another race was between carts drawn by a team of 2 mules. The course was 12 laps around the stadium track (9 miles). Equestrian Riding: Equestrian Riding The course was 6 laps around the track (4.5 miles), and there were separate races for full-grown horses and foals. Jockeys rode without stirrups. Only wealthy people could afford to pay for the training, equipment, and feed of both the driver (or jockey) and the horses. As a result, the owner received the olive wreath of victory instead of the driver or jockey. Penthalon: Penthalon This was a 5-event combination of discus, javelin, jumping, running and wrestling. Aristotle describes a young man's ultimate physical beauty: "a body capable of enduring all efforts, either of the racecourse or of bodily strength...This is why the athletes in the pentathlon are most beautiful." (Aristotle, Rhetoric 1361b) Discus: Discus The ancient Greeks considered the rhythm and precision of an athlete throwing the discus as important as his strength. The discus was made of stone, iron, bronze, or lead, and was shaped like a flying saucer. Sizes varied, since the boys' division was not expected to throw the same weight as the mens'. Javelin: Javelin The javelin was a man-high length of wood, with either a sharpened end or an attached metal point. It had a thong for a hurler's fingers attached to its center of gravity, which increased the precision and distance of a javelin's flight. Jump: Jump Athletes used lead or stone jump weights (halteres) shaped like telephone receivers to increase the length of their jump. The halteres were held in front of the athlete during his ascent, and forcibly thrust behind his back and dropped during his descent to help propel his body further. Jump weights also doubled as weight lifting equipment during training. Running: Running There were 4 types of races at Olympia. The stadion was the oldest event of the Games. Runners sprinted for 1 stade (192 m.), or the length of the stadium. The other races were a 2-stade race (384 m.), and a long-distance run which ranged from 7 to 24 stades (1,344 m. to 4,608 m.). Running(Continued): Running (Continued) And if these races weren't enough, the Greeks had one particularly grueling event which we lack. There was also a 2 to 4-stade (384 m. to 768 m.) race by athletes in armor. This race was especially useful in building the speed and stamina that Greek men needed during their military service. If we remember that the standard hoplite armor (helmet, shield, and greaves)weighed about 50-60 lbs, it is easy to imagine what such an event must have been like. Wrestling: Wrestling Like the modern sport, an athlete needed to throw his opponent on the ground, landing on a hip, shoulder, or back for a fair fall. 3 throws were necessary to win a match. Biting was not allowed, and genital holds were also illegal. Attacks such as breaking your opponent's fingers were permitted. Pankiation: Pankiation This event was a grueling combination of boxing and wrestling. Punches were allowed, although the fighters did not wrap their hands with the boxing himantes. Rules outlawed only biting and gouging an opponent's eyes, nose, or mouth with fingernails. Attacks such as kicking an opponent in the belly, which are against the rules in modern sports, were perfectly legal. Like boxing and wrestling, among others, this event had separate divisions for both men and boys. The poet Xenophanes describes the pankration as "that new and terrible contest...of all holds" (Xenophanes 2) Athletes’ Stories: Athletes’ Stories Like their modern counterparts, ancient athletes had a way of capturing the public's imagination. Several ancient authors such as Pindar, Pausanias, Strabo, and Dio Chrysostom record the noteworthy exploits of some of the best-known Olympic victors of ancient times. Ancient Olympics Activity #1: Ancient Olympics Activity #1 Go to http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/Olympics/index.html Click on Athletes’ Stories Scroll to the bottom of the page Choose one athlete to read about from the list Create a poster for this athlete that includes a color illustration and 10 facts about the athlete. Activity #2Tour of Olympia: Activity #2 Tour of Olympia Go to http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/Olympics/index.html Take the tour of Ancient Olympia Make sure to view all of the slides!