Ancient Olympic Games

During the modern reconstruction of the ancient Olympic Games, the date often given for the first-ever Olympic Games is the year 776 B.C.

Historians, however, long ago established that the first Olympic Games were held before that date, and that these events were considered to be a period of "ekeicheiria," or truce, during which warriors laid down their weapons and competed in sporting events.

The contestants were very highly regarded. They competed in the nude, oiling their muscular bodies for appearances sake.

The attending crowd celebrated the winners, minus any married women, who were forbidden to attend the celebration by penalty of a cruel death. There was one exception to this rule, and it was for the attendant to Demeter, the goddess of agriculture.

The Olympic Games were held in honor of Zeus, and the Greek calendar was based on the four-year periods between games known as Olympiads.

It was the first recorded games held in ancient Olympia that took place in 776 B.C.

The contests

Olympic Games began as a single foot race along a straight course of 600 Hercules feet (about 631 modern feet) called the 'stadium.' More races were later added, including the 'hoplitodromos,' which was run in armor, complete with shield and sword. Contests such as chariot racing, long jump, javelin throw, discus throw, wrestling, boxing and the 'pankration' would add to the excitement of the events.

The pankration was a form of cruel martial arts where everything was permitted, save perhaps the gouging of eyes and biting off of ears and noses. Scholars of the ancient Olympic Games suspect that this sport was practiced as early as 2000 years B.C. Pankration, however, was not just used in the Olympic Games. It was such a brutal undertaking that it was inevitable that it would be used in times of war, which was practically all the time, except for the Olympic Truce.

Olympic sport in legends

Legends have it that Heracles and Theseus combined their strength and skills in both boxing and wrestling in defeating their opponents and that it was Theseus who utilized his superior fighting skills to defeat the widely feared Minotaur in the Labyrinth.

Other legends about this early version of total combat include the myth that Heracles used his tremendous powers of pankration to defeat the Lion of Neamean.

An Olympic oddity

During one of the Olympic Games, a fighter named Arrhichion of Phiglia was engaged in a struggle against an opponent who had him in a chokehold. In a final attempt to free himself, he managed to break his opponent's toe or ankle (history is not very clear on which) and his opponent suffered such pain that he conceded the battle. It was not until the referee raised Arrhichion's arm to designate him the winner that is was discovered that he had expired. Nevertheless, his body was decorated with the customary olive leaf wreath, and he was returned to his native Phigaleia, where he was celebrated as a hero, in spite of his state of lifelessness.

Rewards for the winners

There were no medals awarded, and the winners merely got a crown of olive leaves, which when dried became a family heirloom. Some of the other rewards bestowed upon the winners were to be honored in their region, sometimes being elevated to political and military status.

The end of the ancient Olympic Games

Greece was finally conquered in 168 B.C. by the Romans with the sacking of Corinth, but the Greek culture had a great influence on the conquering Romans, with many customs and festivals being adopted, including the Olympic Games. Over the years after the conquest, Christianity blossomed in the Roman Empire and the games lost their significance, being looked upon as a pagan festival. In 393 A.D., Roman Emperor Theodosius outlawed the games, after a history of almost 1200 years, and 561 years after ancient Greece fell.

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