Ancient Greek Olympics: The Athletes

The job of the Hellanodicae was to find the best of the best to compete in the Olympic Games. It was during the last month of training that the judges weeded out the strong from the weak out of all the competitors. Those that passed the test in their eyes were given an oath to take. In this article, you will learn interesting facts concerning the early Olympian Games.

After swearing to the oath in front of the Hellanodicae, the remaining athletes would form a religious procession that led to a statue of Zeus. This is where the participants of the games offered a boar for sacrifice.

After sacrificing the animal to Zeus, the athletes would place their hands on the entrails of the creature and swore that they had trained to their best ability for ten months and would be fair and honest in the way they dealt with their competitors. The judges also took an oath not to accept any bribes and to make decisions regarding the contests that were fair and honest.

Naked at the Games

An interesting fact that isn’t mentioned much in the history books is that male athletes competed naked in the early Olympic games. This is because the ancient Greeks considered the human body to be pure and beautiful. In the Republic, Plato stated that one of the differences between the Greeks and barbarians was that the Greeks were not ashamed to compete in the nude.

There was no admission required to enter the Olympic Games , it was free to enjoy. The majority of spectators sat on the ground to watch the event, with the exception of the judges and officials. When the games were at full capacity, around 10,000 people had come out to cheer on their favorite athlete. Married women were barred from watching the games and the only married female allowed to attend was the priestess of Demeter. Unmarried girls could come and watch.

The Woman that Changed the Rules

There was one time that a married woman was able to watch the games without being detected. An aristocrat named Callipatira put on a unisex robe in an attempt to disguise herself as the trainer of her son, who was competing in a boxing match for boys. When he won, she was so happy that she jumped up to congratulate him, but not before her robe flew open. The Hellanodicae gave her pardon for this transgression, but she changed the rules forever, as trainers were made to appear naked in the future.

The First Olympic Contest , the Footrace

When the Olympic Games first started, there was only one event for competition , the footrace. The race initially covered one length of track, which measured around 200 meters. This distance was called a stade, which would later become a part of the word ‘stadium.’ Over time, more events were added. In 724 BC, the two-stade race becomes a part of the competition. A long-distance race (that most likely measured three miles) was available in 720 BC. By 708 BC, a complete pentathlon (comprised of five different competitions) came into existence.