The Olympic Games

The Greeks invented the Olympic Games as a way to honor their gods. They were believed to begin around 776 BC, based on inscriptions found at Mount Olympus where the games were held. The origins of the Olympic Games are still a mystery although there are several legends as to how they began.
The Legend of Pelops:
Pelops was originally only the son of the king Tantalus. Tantalus decided to invite the gods to dine with him one evening. He felt the need to present the gods with a gift, but he had nothing that he felt was worthy enough for them. The only true treasure he felt he possessed was his son Pelops, so he decided to sacrifice Pelops to the gods and serve him in their stew. The gods were outraged with the human sacrifice and as punishment banished Tantalus to the underworld. They then granted Pelops life again and they gave him several gifts as well. Poseidon gifted Pelops with fast horses to go off and win himself a new kingdom.
Pelops rode to the kingdom of Elis. The kingdom was ruled by king Oenomaus. Oenomaus had a beautiful daughter, Hippodamia who was seeking a suitor. When she found one he would rule the kingdom with her as his queen. Oenomaus loved his daughter very much and did not want to let her go so he devised a way to find a suitor for her. He would race all those who challenged him in his chariot pulled by a set of horses he received from Ares, god of war.
Pelops challenged the king to a race. Hippodamia wanted Pelops to win so she bribed the stable boy to change the pegs in her fathers chariot from wood to wax. During the race Oenomaus could not pull ahead and eventually the wax pegs of his chariot gave out and the king fell to his death. Pelops married Hippodamia and ruled the kingdom of Elis. Pelops wanted to honor the fallen king in some way so he hosted a funeral feast and invited all the heroes of Greece to take part in athletic games. The games were held on the Plain of Olympia and were repeated every four years. They later became known as the Olympic Games.

The Legend of Heracles:
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After awhile the games fell to disuse. Heracles is known for reviving them. According to legend Heracles was promised part of the kingdom of Elis by the current king Augeas in the event that Heracles could clean the filth from the immense stable of the King. Heracles completed the task as one of his twelve labors, but Augeas did not keep his word. Heracles declared war on Augeas and defeated him as well as his two grandsons Eurytus and Chtheatos who were the head troops in the kingdom’s army.
According to the Greek poet Pindar Heracles founded the games after his war campaign as a way to honor the gods, specifically Zeus. The purpose of the games was to bring together athletes for competition in a celebration for the end of the war. The Olympic festival was held every five years with the first Olympic Games. There was promise of prizes and victory that caused athletes to come and compete.

The Original Games
Originally the Olympic Games were held in Greece and were open to any free man that could speak the Greek language. Victors of the games were awarded with laurel wreaths or palm branches. The Olympic Games brought peace during times of war with the Olympic Truce. This truce allowed athletes to travel safely to and from the games. The truce also caused delays in war during the times of the games so that all the athletes could participate. There were several different events and competitions that made up the original games.
Boxing in the original games was not as organized as it is today. The rules were fewer and the violence was greater. Men competed until one was knocked unconscious or one admitted defeat.There were no rounds or rules against hitting your opponent while he was down. There was also no weight classes or divisions. All opponents were chosen at random making many fights uneven. Boxers in the original Olympics did not wear gloves they wrapped their hands in leather thongs that allowed their fingers to remain free during fights.
Equestrian Events:
  • Chariot Races:
Chariot Races consisted of separate divisions, the two horse race and the four horse race. The two horse race is when two horses pull the chariot and the four horse race is when four horses pull the chariot. There was also a division for racing foals and another for mules. The races were nine miles long, or nine laps around the track.
  • Riding
During riding races jockeys rode without stirrups six laps around the track or four and a half miles. There were separate divisions for full grown horses and foals. This competition was not really between the jockeys and horses that raced on the track, but rather their owners . It cost a lot of money to train and feed both the rider and the horse and therefore the wreaths were presented to the owners rather than those competing.
The pankrations was a sport played in the original Olympics it was a cross between boxing and wrestling. It consisted of two divisions, men and boys. Other than division separation opponents were chosen at random. Unlike boxing competitors were did not wear leather thongs or hand protection of any kind even though punches were considered legal. Kicking was also legal even in the stomach and competitors were allowed to continue to attack their opponent when they had fallen to the ground. The only moves that were considered illegal were biting and gouging of the eyes, nose or mouth.olympicgames_324.jpg
The Pentathlon consisted of five events designed to test athletes completely in all abilities.
  • Discus:
The discus was designed to test an athlete's strength. The athlete had a coordinated way in which they threw a disc made of stone, iron, bronze, or lead that was shaped like a flying saucer. The size of the disc varied with the two divisions, boys and men. The winner of the discus was the person who was able to throw it the farthest.
  • Javelin:
The javelin was a long rod that was as tall as a man. It was constructed of wood and had a pointed end or attached metal point to help with precision when it was thrown. The javelin also had a thong for the throwers fingers that was located at the center of gravity of the javelin to increase precision and distance when the javelin was thrown. The objective was to throw the javelin as far as possible.
  • Jump:
The objective of the jump was to jump the greatest distance. To achieve this the athlete used halteres, which were lead or stone weights shaped like telephone receivers. These weights were held out in front of the athlete during his ascent and as he continued he would thrust it behind him and drop it to the ground during the descent. This tactic propelled the athlete further.
  • Running
Athletes ran four different types of races. There was the one stade race that was roughly one hundred and ninety two meters. The other races were two stades or long distance races that consisted of running seven to twenty-four stades.There was also a two to four stade race in which athletes wore full armor which weighed roughly fifty to sixty pounds. These races tested athletes speed endurance and strength. Running is not only apart of the Pentathlon but also its own category.
  • Wrestling:
The objectiHistory.gifve of wrestling was to throw your opponent onto the ground landing on his hip, shoulder, or back in fair fall. Three throws were required in order to win the match. Like other competitions in this time ancient wrestling permitted more violent actions such as breaking fingers in fights. Rules did however prohibit biting and genital grabbing. Like running wrestling was apart of the Pentathlon and was its own category.

Olympic Games Now vs. Olympic Games Then

There are several differences between the games today and the games in ancient times. There are more events and competitions and competitors come from every corner of the globe and speak an array of different languages. The Winter Olympics are held every four years today to alternate with the Summer Olympics, which are also held every four years. There are also more rules and regulations that are designed to prevent any serious injury to any athletes. Although the differences are evident there are also several similarities between the games now and then. For instance the Olympic Truce is still an active organization that today consists of a committee that is designed to maintain the safety of the games and the athletes. Even though there are more games and more athletes and more rules the essence of the games are still the same. They bring the world together for friendly competition and allow people recognition for their hard work and athletic abilities. They grant those who are victorious fame and glory on a global scale as well as in their local communities. Even though the games have gone through changes over the centuries they still remain an important aspect of the "known worlds" culture.

Bibliography: (pelops legend) (heracles legend) (sports of ancient times) (Olympic Truce)