How The Olympic Games Started

Fareeha Arshad

The Olympic Games is not a recent development; nor did it just develop few hundreds of years ago. Instead, the Olympic Games have been around for a long, long time. The game began over 3000 years ago in ancient Greece and was organized in honour of the Greek God Zeus in Olympia between the eighth century B.C. and fourth century A.D.

Emperor Theodosius I banned the games in 393 A.D. because he didn’t want to promote any ‘pagan’ festival under his rule. Over 1500 years later, these games were reintroduced in 1892 to promote physical education among people. Since then, the games have been consistently held every four years except in 1916, 1940, 1944 (because of the world wars), and 2020 (because of the ‘virus that shall not be named').

1. The Olympic Games were part of series of games: The Panhellenic Games
A carving on a cup showing Poseidon and other Isthmian gods. This cup was dedicated to Mercury by Quintus Domitius Tutus, from the BerthouviWikimedia Commons

Apart from the Olympics Games, there were three other games: Nemean, Isthmian, and Pythian Games. Each of these games was held one after the other every year. The Olympic Games marked the start of one year. The Nemean and Isthmian Games were held in the second year, while the Pythian Games were held in the third year following the Olympic Games.

Again, the fourth year hosted the Nemean and Isthmian Games, which marked the end of one cycle. The cycle would again repeat with the start of the Olympic Games. These games, however, were limited only to the Greek men. Poor men usually didn’t participate in the games because of the lack of funding for training and other expenses that could incur during their stay.

All four games hosted wrestling, boxing, pentathlon, and races of all kinds. The winners of any of these games were awarded different garlands. For instance, the winners at the Olympic games were gifted with olive leaves garland, at Nemean games were given a crown of wild celery, at Pythian games were given laurel leaves garland, and a wreath of pine leaves was given to the winners at Isthmian games.

2. The first-ever winner of the Olympics

The very first winner recorded for the ancient Olympic Games was a baker by the name of Coroebus who hailed from Eleia (present-day Elis), which is an ancient town in Greece.

The town still exists today and houses a couple of hundred people. Coroebus won the 192-meter footrace in the year 776 B.C. Unlike the gold medals that are awarded today, he was given an olive branch as his winning medal.

3. ‘Hoplitodromos ’: The race in armour and shields
A painting showing the HoplitodromosWikimedia Commons

Introduced in 520 B.C., Hoplitodromos would have been one of the challenges among all the ancient games and perhaps was one of the last games held during any of the Panhellenic Games. In this game, the contestants were required to run long distances in complete body armour, including armours and shields that weighed at least twelve pounds.

During the race, the competitors would run with all their might and often trip over each other and cause their shields to fall off. Like any other race, the first person to reach the end of complete the required number of laps would win the game.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I mostly write about history and science.

Texas State

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