Early Western CivilizationA Gift of Peace from the Past, The Ancient Olympics Since 1896, the year the Olympics were resurrected from ancienthistory, the Olympics have been a symbol of the camaraderie and harmonypossible on a global scale. The gathering of athletic representatives,the pride of the pack, from participating governments, even throughoutthe recent Cold War period, is proof that world unity is possible; justas it was in Ancient Greece with the polis or city-states. Olympic Games were held throughout Ancient Greece, but the most famousare the games that were held in Olympia in honor of Zeus every fouryears from August 6th to September 19th. The first record of thesegames is of one Coroebus of Elis, a cook, winning a sprint race in 776BC. Most historians believe the games to have been going on forapproximately 500 years before this. In the year Coroebus was made apart of history, there was apparently only one simple event, a racecalled the stade. The track was said to be one stade long or roughly210 yards. In subsequent games, additional events were to be added, most likely toincrease the challenge to these amazing athletes. In 724 BC, thediaulos, a two stade race, was added, followed by a long distance race,about 2 + miles and called the dolichos, at the next games four yearslater. Wrestling and the famous Pentathlon were introduced in 708 BC. The Pentathlon consisted of five events; the long jump, javelin throw,discus throw, foot race, and wrestling. The Pentathlons, especially thesuccessful ones, were often treated and even worshipped like gods.Because of their exquisite physiques, they were used as the models forstatues of the Greek Gods. The superior athletic ability of theseathletes affects the games even today. The twisting and throwing methodof the discus throw, which originated in Ancient Greece, is still usedtoday. The original events were even more challenging than those oftoday. The modern discus weighs in at just 5 pounds, one-third of theoriginal weight, and the long jumps were done with the contestantcarrying a five pound weight in each hand. The pit to be traversed inthis jump allowed for a 50 foot jump, compared to just over 29 feet inour modern Olympics. Apparently, the carried weights, used correctly,could create momentum to carry the athlete further. Legend has it thatone Olympian cleared the entire pit by approximately 5 feet, breakingboth legs as he landed. One significant difference between the modern and ancient games; theoriginal Olympians competed in the nude. Because of this, the 45,000spectators consisted of men and unwed virgin women only. The onlyexception to this would be the priestess of Demeter who was also theonly spectator honored with a seat. The young unwed women were allowedto watch to introduce them to men in all their splendor and brutalitywhereas it was felt that married women should not see what they couldnot have. In addition, the virgins had their own event which occurredon the men s religious day of rest. Called the Haria, in honor of Harathe wife of Zeus, the young women would race dressed in a short tunicwhich exposed the right breast. Traditionally, Spartan women dominatedthis event, being trained from birth for just this purpose.
The religious undertones of the events became extremely apparent onthe third day of the games when a herd of 100 cows were killed as asacrifice to Zeus. In actuality, only the most useless parts wereburned in honor of Zeus; most of the meat would be cooked and eatenthat day. The sacrifices were conducted on a huge cone-shaped alterbuilt up from the ashes of previously sacrificed animals. The mound wasso large, the Greeks would cut steps into the cone after discovering itcould be hardened by adding water and drying. Another ingenious invention was a system to prevent early starts in thefoot races. It consisted of a bar in front of the runners to ensurethey all start at the same time. This most likely was viewed as ablessing by the competitors, as previous to this, they would be beatenby the judges with rods for an early jump. This system led to theextravagant mechanisms used for starting the chariot races in 680 BC.Other introductions to the games were boxing in 688 BC, the pancratium,a no-holds barred form of wrestling, in 648 BC, and eventually someevents for boys between 632 and 616 BC. The Olympics of old were entirely a man on man competition. No recordswere kept to be broken but a few amazing legends of the games havesurvived the test of time. Aegeus, for instance, was said to havecompleted his competition and then to run home to Argos, over 60 milesaway, in one day. Milo, one of the most feared Olympians of AncientGreece, was said to have carried a full grown bull to the arena,butchered it, and ate the entire animal in one day. Not surprisingly,he was said to have one many a wrestling match by the forfeiture of hisopponent. He also walked away with six consecutive Olympic crowns. These legends, for all their blood, sweat, and tears, were awarded anolive branch from the tree behind the alter of Zeus when they won.Fortunately, the regions they represented were usually somewhat moregrateful for bringing honor home. It was not uncommon for the victorsto receive free food for life, money, or other valuable offers. Theywere often worshipped as gods and sometimes their sweat was preservedand sold as a magical potion. In the later years of the games, an additional event was added whichsignaled the end of the games and the return to the war ridden life ofancient history. Soldiers, adorned with a full body of armor weighingupwards of 50 pounds, would compete in a foot race. Unfortunately, eventhe apparent athletic ability of these soldiers could not prevent thefall of Greece to Rome in the middle of the second century BC. UnderRoman rule, the Olympics began to lose its fervor until it was abolishedin 393 AD by the Christian Roman emperor Theodosius I who most likelyobjected to the pagan rites associated with the Olympics. Some historians believe that even after the official abolishment of theOlympics, it may have survived for an additional 120 years. Itssubsequent revival in 1896 was brought about by the discovery of theancient stadium. Since that time, it has been held every four years, inaccordance with tradition, being interrupted only for the two worldwars. The competition of the nations in these events represents theage old competitive spirit of man. The need for people to take pride insomething larger than themselves and feel as if they are part of agreater good. The Olympics, today as well as 3,000 years ago, offers anon-combative environment to do so.