The first few olympics just had a running race and only lasted one day, but more events got added on later and it became a five day event. Because ancient Greece would often have conflicts going on between city-states there would be a sacred truce (Ekecheiria) during the games so that athletes and spectators could travel to and from Olympia safely.
Competitors from all over Greece and sometimes beyond would compete in sporting events including foot-races (running), the pentathlon (running, long jump, discus, javelin and wrestling), boxing, wrestling, the pankration, and equestrian races (horse and chariot). Pankration is a combination of boxing and wresting and was a particularly brutal event.
Fun Fact: the participants would also compete naked! In fact the Greek word for nude was gymnós which is where our word for gymnasiums comes from.
The ancient olympics also did not allow women to compete in the events, and only unmarried women were allowed to be spectators. Despite this, in 396 BC Kyniska of Sparta became the first female Olympic victor for the chariot race, because the owners of the horses were considered the winners of the race, not the riders.
Instead of receiving gold, silver and bronze medals, there was only one victor in each of the events and they were rewarded with a wreath (wild olive leaf crown), and of course the glory and honour of being an olympic victor (in other words – bragging rights!)
In 393 AD the new Roman emperor and Christian, Theodosius, banned the olympic games because he considered them a pagan practice. So ended 1,000 years of tradition, during which 293 olympics games were held. That is until Pierre de Coubertin, a French academic and historian, pushed to resurrect them and so began the modern olympic games in 1896 Athens, Greece.
Want to know more? Find these books in your local library:
“In ancient Greece different city-states often fought one another in deadly battles. But every four years the Greeks set aside their differences to honor the gods and compete peacefully in the Olympic Games. Learn all about the athletes, competitions, and religious ceremonies of the ancient Olympics.” (Syndetics summary)
Olympics by Richard Platt
“‘In the same spirit as the previous Through Time titles, this book explores the evolution of the Olympic Games, from its ancient origins to modern times. The chronological format allows the reader to experience life in many diverse cities and cultures during different historical periods. Through Time: The Olympic Games tells the complete story of history’s most famous, and most international, sporting competition. The narrative runs from city to city, exploring the impact of the Games on each host nation as well as the key social, political and cultural events of the time. Woven into this narrative are all the major sporting highlights, facts and record-breakers.” (Syndetics summary)
This hilarious guide tells readers everything they need to know, from the torture of Olympic training, to some of the best performances dating back as far as 776 BC.