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Answered 2013-02-28 13:21:33

= Ancient Olympic Games = The Ancient Olympic games originally contained one event: the stadion (or "stade") race, a short sprint measuring between 180 and 240 metres, or the length of the stadium. The actual length of the race is unknown, since tracks found at archeological sites, as well as literary evidence, provide conflicting answers. Runners had to pass five stakes that divided the lanes: one stake at the start, another at the finish, and three stakes in-between. Since time was not pertinent to winning the stadion, merely passing the finish stake first was enough to earn the victory.

The diaulos, or 2-stade race, was introduced in 724 BC, during the 14th Olympic games. The race was a single lap of the stadium, approximately 400 metres, and scholars debate whether or not the runners had individual "turning" posts for the return leg of the race, or whether all the runners approached a common post, turned, and then raced back to the starting line. A third foot race, the dolichos, was introduced in 720 BC. Separate accounts of the race present conflicting evidence as to the actual length of the dolichos. However, the average stated length of the race was approximately 18-24 laps, or about three miles. The event was run similarly to modern marathons- the runners would begin and end their event in the stadium proper, but the race course would wind its way through the Olympic grounds. The course would often flank important shrines and statues in the sanctuary, passing by the Nike statue by the temple of Zeus before returning to the stadium. The last running event added to the Olympic program was the hoplitodromos, or "Hoplite race," introduced in 520 BC and traditionally run as the last race of the day. The runners would run either a single or double diaulos (approximately 400 or 800 yards) in full or partial armour, carrying a shield and additionally equipped either with greaves or a helmet. As the armour weighed between 50 and 60 lbs, the hoplitodromosemulated the speed and stamina needed for warfare. Due to the weight of the armour, it was easy for runners to drop their shields or trip over fallen competitors. In a vase painting depicting the event, some runners are shown leaping over fallen shields. The course they used for these runs were made out of clay with sand over the clay. Over the years, more events were added: boxing (pygme/pygmachia), Wrestling (pale), pankration (regulated full-contact fighting, similar to today's mixed Martial Arts), Chariot Racing, several other running events (the diaulos, hippios, dolichos, and hoplitodromos), as well as a pentathlon, consisting of wrestling, stadion, long jump, javelin throw and discus throw (the latter three were not separate events). Boxing became increasingly brutal over the centuries. Initially soft leather covered their fingers but eventually hard leather weighted with metal was sometimes used. In the chariot racing event, it was not the rider but the owner of the chariot and team who was considered to be the competitor, so one man could win more than one of the top spots. The addition of events meant the festival grew from 1 day to 5 days, 3 of which were used for competition. The other two days were dedicated to religious rituals. On the final day, there was a banquet for all of the participants, consisting of 100 oxen that had been sacrificed to Zeus on the first day. The winner of an Olympic event was awarded an olive branch, and was often received with much honour throughout Greece and especially in his home town, where he was often granted large sums of money (in Athens, 500 drachma, a small fortune). (See Milo of Croton.) Sculptors would create statues of Olympic victors and poets would sing odes in their praise for money. Archaeologists believe that wars were halted between the city-states of Greece so that the athletes as well as the spectators of the Olympics could get there safely. However, some archaeologists argue that the wars were not halted, but that the athletes who were in the army were allowed to leave and participate in the Olympics. Participation in the games was limited to male athletes; the only way women were allowed to take part was to enter horses in the equestrian events. In 396 BC and again in 392 BC, the horses of a Spartan princess named Cynisca won her the four-horse race. It is thought that single women (not betrothed or married)were allowed to watch the races. Also priestesses in the temple of Zeus who lit the candles were permitted as this was seen by the men the only thing women were good at. The athletes usually competed naked, not only as the weather was appropriate but also as the festival was meant to celebrate, in part, the achievements of the human body. Olive oil was occasionally used by the competitors, not only to keep skin smooth but also to provide an appealing look for the participants. Competitors may have worn a kynodesme to restrain the penis.


The Ancient Greek Olympics were held every four years at Olympia, a district of Elis, where all free Greek men were entitled to compete. During the Imperial period of Rome, the Olympic Games were more ecumenical. (Kyle, p. 333.) The first Olympic Games were held in 776 B.C. (traditional date) and the last in A.D. 393, when they were abolished by the Christian Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I. * Boxing * Discus (part of Pentathlon) * Equestrian Events * Javelin (part of Pentathlon) * Jumping * Pankration * Pentathlon * Running * Wrestling According to "The Athletic Events of the Ancient Olympic Games," [URL = ] the stade (a 200 yard foot race) was the first and only Olympic event for 13 Games. The diaulos (400 yard foot race) was instituted for the next Olympic Games and the dolichos(variable length foot race, averaging 20 stades) for the fifteenth Olympiad. Homer describes boxing (added to the Olympics in 688 B.C.) as held to honor Patroklos, the slain companion of Achilles. Originally the boxing gloves were thongs wrapped around the hands and arms, but evolved into less time consuming oxen prewrapped thongs known as himantes, held in place by leather straps wrapped around the forearm. The pentathlon began with the 18th Olympiad and consisted of discus, javelin, long jump, running, and wrestling. Jason is attributed with inventing the contest. One Olympic origins story, mentioned in Greek Tragedy and the House of Atreus, tells of how Pelops won the hand of his bride, Hippodamia, by competing in a chariot race against her father, King Oinomaos of Pisa. Pelops conspired to win the race by replacing the king's chariot's lynchpins with ones made of wax which melted on the course, throwing the king from his chariot and killing him. After Pelops married Hippodamia, he commemorated his victory with the Olympic Games. Another version of the origin of the Olympic games, from Pindar, explained in "Commentary on Olympian 10" [URL = ], attributes the games to Heracles who held the games to honor his father, Zeus, after he exacted revenge on Augeus for defaulting on his promised reward for cleansing the stables. (See Labors of Hercules) Pindar's admiration for Heracles is examined in Constantinos Chamis's "Heracles Influence at Delphi and Olympia"[URL = ]. In "Heracles' Olympic Influence" [URL = ], Chamis discusses Heracles' contributions, including the (inclusive counting) 5 years between games, and the laurel crown. Unlike the modern Olympics, there was an important religious component to the ancient games. A gold and ivory statue of Zeus by Pheidias was placed inside Zeus' temple at Olympia. 42 feet high, it was one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World. While in "Women and the Olympic Games" [URL = ], Leslie Des Marteau says matrons were forbidden to attend the Games, the priestess of Demeter was required. Maidens were also permitted. In "Crime and Punishment at Olympia and Delphi" [URL = ], Rachel Sandberg explains that crimes committed at the Games were considered sacrilege. Such crimes included the acceptance of payment, corruption, and invasion. Dartmouth's Olympics site, "Olympic Anecdotes" says "the truce [ekcheiria] was, in effect, an interim of civic and military neutrality in honor of Zeus, the supreme judge and arbiter and source of wisdom...." Only free men who spoke Greek could compete, the location didn't move around, women athletes were forbidden, there was no torch, the games, equipment, and clothing were different, Zeus was honored, but, as Perseus' Ancient Sports page says, both today and yesterday, winning athletes "put their home towns on the map."

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