The Olympic Games

The Olympic Games are a tradition of athletic events that take place every four
years. They are a custom that was started many years ago, but are currently taken for
granted. People from all over the world tune their televisions and radios to watch and
listen to the events, but never question their existence. When were the Olympic games
started? What was the first event? How did it grow? Where were the first games held?
Why did they start? Did they have any political, social, or religious meanings?
The games started about 3,500 years ago in the country of Greece. The first
games were not called the Olympic games but the Classical games. They were held every
four years as they are today. They were different from today’s games, in that they were
held at four different city-states. At each city-state, the games were given different names.
They were the Olympic Games, held at Olympia; the Pythian Games at Delphi; the
Nemean Games at Nemea; and the Isthmian Games at Corinth. These games later spread
to over 150 cities as far as Rome, Naples, Odessus, Antioch, and Alexandria. Olympia
still has records of its champions over 776 BC to AD 217. The champions of Olympia
came from about a dozen cities in Greece, but mainly from Sparta and Athens. The first
Olympic Games only consisted of one event. The first event was a stade won by
Coroebus of Elis. A stade was a foot race of about 210 yards. Later, horse racing was
added next followed by a long-distance race, wrestling, and the pentathlon. The first
games held in Olympia were in honor of Zeus.
The games, like all the Greek games, was an intrinsic part of a religious festival. Religion
was the basis of a tradition that has out lasted time. All the games held in Greece were in
the honor of one of their acknowledged gods. The first Olympic Games lasted only one
day, but with the addition of events, the games were extended to four days of events and
the fifth day was dedicated to a religious closing. All the events were competed in the
total nude. This was to glorify the gods. It was a symbol of the perfect and pure body
being offered to the god. Religion was a major part of the Greek culture. Thus, when
games were held in tribute to gods they were well attended. Evidence proves that the
games were grand celebration throughout Greece. There was even a sacred truce, or
ekecheiria, that guaranteed athletes, officials, and spectators safe passage to Olympia. The
carrying of the torch was a very religious event. It consisted of runners racing through the
city attempting to lay a burning torch at the feet of the altar of the designated god. The
winner was held with high regards. Religious ceremonies often followed the race. Even
though the Olympic Games were held for religious reasons, most that we do not know, the
torch race was never practiced during the games. The awards given to the athletes were
far from expensive, but they were very honorable. The winner received crown of olive
branches intertwined that was placed on the victors head. They were no ordinary olive
branches, though, they were cut from the sacred olive tree. No one knows for sure where
the tree was located, but many assume it was located in the coliseum. The coliseum was
also designed to worship the gods. It contained a huge altar of Zeus at one end looking
over everything. On his sides were small altars of less significant gods and goddess.
Located in the middle of the track were many more gods and goddess with even less
importance. So even the architectural work of the games had religious meanings inscribed
in them.
Even though the Olympics were founded on religion, like everything else, it changed to a
matter of fame and fortune. The awards for the winners were initially more honorable
than monetary. This, however, changed over the years. An athlete ran for the pride of his
city-state, and in return the city-state took care of its winners. The games were financed
and officiated by one man, usually a very wealthy individual. When one of the athletes
from his city-state won he rewarded them with great wealth and fame. Other winners
became jealous of the monetary awards. In return for their services, they demanded a
ransom from their city-states when they were victorious. Some athletes were similar to
the athletes of today; play