There is so much to say about the Olympics, I would need ten posts to discuss all I want to discuss, but I decided to limit myself to just ten points of Olympic interest people might not be aware of. Did you know all of this about the Olympics?
An artist's impression of Altis, the sanctuary in Olympia
- The Olympic Games were held every four years, like they are now, from 776 B.C. to A.D. 394. They were, however, part of a cycle of sports events, known as the Panhellenic Games. The Olympic Games were dedicated to Zeus, were held in Olympia, Elis, and were held every four years. The Pythian Games were dedicated to Apollon, were held in Delphi and were held every four years, starting three years after the Olympic Games. The Nemean Games were dedicated to Zeus also, were held in Nemea, Corinthia, and were held every two years. Lastly, the Isthmian Games were dedicated to Poseidon, were held in Corinth, and were also held every two years.
- The most important events at the Olympic Games weren't the sport events; they were the sacrifices, offerings and other dedicatory practices which were continually performed during the five day event. There were also artistic happenings; writers, sculptures and painters showed what they could do in their given trade. Palmistry was practiced, wine flowed freely and there were a lot of prostitutes, who made more money in these five days than in the whole of a year without the sporting event. The Olympics were a festival unlike any other and every four years Hellas went nuts for it.
- The opening ceremony was as spectacular as it is today, but in an entirely different manner; athletes filed into the arena and were presented to the audience. Then, they were presented to a towering statue of Zeus, who carried a thunderbolt and a heft scowl. They swore on a bloody slice of boar's meat that they would obey the rules of the competition and not cheat to gain victory.
- The torch relay I take great joy in, was not practiced in Ancient Greece. In fact, it was introduced in 1936 by Hitler in response to an idea by Carl Diem to further the reign of the Nazi's and, in their eyes, glorify the Aryan super race, the Spartans.
- Not everyone was allowed to participate in the games; non-Hellenics and women were unable to compete. There were exceptions made for non-Hellenics, like Roman Emperor Nero, when the situation called for it, but women were never allowed to compete. Married women weren't even allowed to enter the arena. There was, however, a secondary series of sporting events held in honor of Hera where women competed.
- The Olympic sport events back then were: chariot racing, wrestling, boxing, pankration, foot races, and the pentathlon which consisted of wrestling, stadion, long jump, javelin throw, and discus throw. Pankration was a fighting sport in which everything went. It was a kind of mixed martial-arts event in which broken bones were the norm, choke holds were encouraged and the only thing that you really couldn't do was gauge someone's eyes out. Everything else went. You won when the other guy went K.O.
- Except the chariot races, all Olympic sports were performed naked. This included the Pankration, so you can imagine where most of the pain was inflicted. The woman weren't completely naked, but participated with one breast exposed, in honor of the Amazonian women who were said to be so incredible at sports and warfare alike.
- Over 40.000 people came to watch the Games. Olympia was in the middle of nowhere. If you came from Athens, it meant a 340 kilometer (210 mile) long walk just to get to Altis. Because of the festival and the presence of the Gods, all these people traveled the distance anyway.
- The end of the Olympic Games is guestimated to 394 A.D. after a decree to cease all pagan festivals by Christian emperor Theodosius I.
- Winners of the Olympic Games got rather minor rewards; Olympic winners recieved a garland of olives, Pythian winners recieved a laurel wreath, Nemean winners recieved a wild celery garland and the Isthmian winner recieved a pine garland. There was no runner-up; you won or you lost. All athletes were bathed in fame and glory until they lost, but the winner was brought home to his polis a king. He would never have to work again, was covered in riches and women, and his name and family name would be forever remembered and honored.