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History: Ancient Greek Olympics Essay

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Updated: Aug 16th, 2022

The Olympic Games appeared centuries ago in ancient Greece. The Games were an outcome of the morals of Greek society. Local citizens idealized physical health and mental discipline, and they believed that superiority in those spheres honored their god Zeus (Kyle 15-56). Hence, the myth concerning the emergence of the Olympic Games involves Zeus (Wolff 4-17).

According to the myth, Zeus struggled with his father, Kronos, for power over the entire globe (Wolff 4-17). They fought on a mountain, which overlooked a valley, and after Zeus conquered his parent, a shrine and huge sculpture were created in the valley to honor him (Wolff 4-17). The valley was recognized as Olympia, and soon religious celebrations evolved there as people came to worship Zeus (“Ancient Olympic Games”).

These religious celebrations finally caused the appearance of the Olympic Games (Wolff 4-17). According to famous researcher Stephen Miller (220-221), the primary Games “can be traced back to the year 776 BC.” Olympia used to be a vital spot for religious practices since the tenth century BC (Wolff 4-17). The largest part of Olympia was controlled by the majestic shrine of Zeus (“Ancient Olympic Games”).

The Olympic Games originally lasted one day till 684 BC, when the Games were developed to three days (“Ancient Olympic Games”). In the 5th century BC, the competition lasted five days (“Ancient Olympic Games”). The Games embraced long jump, wrestling, boxing, running, a pentathlon, discus throw, pankration and equestrian events (“Ancient Olympic Games”).

  • Pentathlon: it became an Olympic part with the evolvement of wrestling, and embraced running, discus throw and jumping (“Ancient Olympic Games”);
  • Running: it embraced the stade race (200m foot race), the diaulos (two usual states), and dolichos (7-24 states) (“Ancient Olympic Games”);
  • Discus throw: it was created of stone, iron, or bronze. The procedure reminded current discus throw (“Ancient Olympic Games”);
  • Jumping: contestants applied weights recognized as halteres to expand a jump (“Ancient Olympic Games”);
  • Wrestling: a highly valued form of military exercise with no weaponry. It stopped only when one contestant declared defeat (“Ancient Olympic Games”);
  • Boxing: athletes used straps to strengthen wrists. Originally, the straps were soft, but later boxers began to use hard leather straps, frequently leading to scars (“Ancient Olympic Games”);
  • Pankration: an ancient form of martial art embracing wrestling and boxing (“Ancient Olympic Games”);
  • Equestrian events: they embraced horse and chariot races (“Ancient Olympic Games”).

During twelve centuries, many great sportsmen competed in Olympia, moving people with their remarkable accomplishments (“Ancient Olympic Games”). Their victories made them immortal. Of the finest competitors, who left their stamp on the sacred area of Olympia, some became legends. Astylos of Croton, Milon of Croton, Leonidas of Rhodes, Melankomas of Caria are a few of them (“Ancient Olympic Games”).

It should be mentioned that Kyniska of Sparta became the “primary female to be listed as an Olympic champion in Antiquity” (“Ancient Olympic Games”). However, in the Olympic Games, females were not allowed to be present at the Games. Thus, the competition was officially won by the owner, not the rider, of the horse (“Ancient Olympic Games”).

There used to be several requirements for taking part in the Olympic Games. An applicant had to be a Greek free male of over 18 years old (Kotynski 5-6). Consistent with Donald G. Kyle (56-101), the candidate was supposed to swear that he had been preparing for ten months before the Games (Kyle 56-101).

Those who were taking part in the Olympic Games had to send a notification that they would be participating and could be fined if they appeared too late (Kotynski 5-6). The excuses for unpunctuality were shipwreck, pirates, and illness (Kotynski 5-6). When the Games for young boys were established, only children under 18 could participate in those games (Kotynski 5-6).

It was impossible to prove someone’s date of birth; thus, “the judgment of the age was made based upon their appearance” (Kotynski 5-6). Professionals and amateurs used to compete against each other. Nevertheless, because training made better sportsmen, professional athletes started to dominate the Olympic Games (Kotynski 5-6).

As for the spectators, in spite of the fact that the Olympic festival was fundamentally religious, not all people had an opportunity to observe the athletics because the participants competed undressed (Kotynski 6). Married ladies and slaves were not allowed to attend the Olympic Games (Kotynski 6). The punishment was death.

There used to be punishments for cheating athletes as well. Dishonest competitors had to pay fines. The fines were used to construct bronze sculptures, which were placed along the path to the arenas for competition. Sculptures were supposed to discourage athletes from cheating (Kotynski 10).

They had writings claiming who paid the fine for the construction of the sculpture, and what was their misdemeanor (Kotynski 10). It is interesting that the cheating champions could preserve the victories.

Concerning the rewards, initially the trophies offered to the champions were worth the participation in the event, but finally, an only modest crown made of olive leaves was given to the victor (Kotynski 10). The winner obtained his primary prize right after the contest. After the declaration of the victor’s name, a judge would give him a palm branch, while the viewers cheered loudly.

Also, red ribbons were placed on the champion’s head and both arms. The most important award ceremony was held on the ultimate day of the event, at the shrine of Zeus. After the announcement of the champion, a judge put the wreath on his head.

In spite of the fact that the official prize was merely a wreath, the proud cities to which the contestants belonged, got prestige from their victory and so would give substantial monetary support to them (Kotynski 10). Hence, the cities in ancient Greece offered substantial rewards for the winners, which could be financial or honorary (Crowther 34-35). Victorious participants brought fame to their native cities.

To obtain additional political prestige, cities even often entered competitions at the Games in equestrian events, which required significant capital (Crowther 34-35). Some Greek cities even tried to recruit contestants from other places due to the future national prestige (Crowther 34-35).

On the whole, the Games were closely tied with the religious celebrations of Zeus. However, they were not an internal part of a ritual. The Games had a worldly character and were supposed to demonstrate the physical features and evolvement of the performances achieved by young humans, and supporting good associations among the cities of Greece (Kyle 15-56). The Olympic Games owed their integrity and significance to religion.

The athletic rivalry became so significant to the citizens that the Games turned out to be a peaceful pressure on the aggressive cities (Kyle 15-56). Sparta trained all its citizens severely. However, even Sparta would wait till the Olympic Games were over before sending soldiers into a fight (Kyle 15-56). Other Greek cities remained peaceful during the Games as well.

Works Cited

Ancient Olympic Games. n.d. Web.

Crowther, Nigel B. “Athlete and State: Qualifying for the Olympic Games in Ancient Greece.” Journal of Sport History 23.1 (1996): 34-35. Print.

Kotynski, Edward J. 2006, The Athletics of the Ancient Olympics: A Summary and Research Tool. PDF file. Web.

Kyle, Donald G. Athletics in Ancient Athens, The Netherlands, Leiden: BRILL, 1993. Print.

Miller, Stephen. “The Date of Olympic Festivals.” Mitteilungen: Des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Athenische Abteilung 90 (1975): 215-237. Print.

Woff, Richard. The Ancient Greek Olympics, USA, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Print.

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