An Introduction to the Ancient Greek Olympics

The pentathlon of today’s Olympics was much different than the games held in ancient Greek times. In this article, you will learn the five events that entertained the people in 776 BC and beyond, such as athletes demonstrating how far they could jump.

The first Olympic Games took place in the western part of Greece in 776 BC in a city named Olympia. It was during this time that the first champions were entered into the record books. The Games were held as a religious festival in honor of the king of the gods, Zeus. It is believed that Heracles (hero in Greek mythology) started the tradition. The Greeks also viewed the games as an art form, where they celebrated the beauty and strength of the human body. The Greek games became an important part of their culture.

Requirements to Participate

The games were held during the second or third full moon after the summer solstice, which typically took place between August 6 and September 19. All Greeks were invited to participate with the exception of married women. Foreigners were not allowed to enter the games. Participants were required to have been born with pure Hellenic blood, free from any legal misdeeds, and did not own any penalty to Zeus.

Young, unmarried girls participated in games of their own , called the Heraia, which was named after Zeus’ wife, Hera. These games most likely took place before the men competed at Olympia. It is said that the women only competed in a footrace.

Training for the Games

However, training for the games meant that one needed money or funding. Because of this, the city-states of ancient Greece set up gyms subsidized by the government, which allowed some to hone their skills. Yet, the process of competing in the games still involved a great deal of time, money, and guidance. The need to acquire specialized training for the game, athletes started to hire professional coaches in the 6th century BC.

Athletes also paid more attention to their exercise, diet, and sex lives. However, not all of these preparations for the games were necessary for the best. Milo of Croton was a southern Italian who earned a reputation as the greatest Olympian wrestler. He was known for eating 40 pounds of meat and bread in one sitting , followed by two gallons of wine. The expenses needed to cater to such athletes were usually the responsibility of families.

Training usually started ten months before the games and demanded a great deal of focus and determination. The last month of training was the most difficult, as the athletes performed in front of Olympian judges called Hellanodicae.