The history of ancient Greece exhibits their love for sports. The Greeks believed that a healthy body is equal to a healthy mind. There were many public gymnasiums where the men de-stressed themselves or underwent training. Men and young boys practiced many sports to keep themselves fit.
Ancient Greeks conducted four national sports festivals, and athletes from different regions came over to compete against each other. One of these events was very popular and famous. It was conducted at Olympia to please the Greek God Zeus. This sport was conducted once in four years, and sacrifices and offerings were offered to Zeus, in the form of grains, wine, and lambs.
There are many myths connected with the ancient Olympics. According to one, the guardians of the god Zeus conducted these games. Another one tells that a Greek hero Pelops, established these events after winning a chariot race against King Oenomaus, to win the hands of his daughter Hippodamia.
Only men who could speak Greek were allowed to participate, and this festival was not open to slaves. Initially, only athletes from Greek city-states were allowed to compete. Eventually, the people from Greek colonies were also allowed to part in these competitions.
Historians believe that the first Olympics took place in 776 BC in Olympia. The area where the games were held was a cult site, and was not good for cultivation. The stadium was located near the temples of the Greek gods, Zeus and Hera.
The games began with an oath-taking ceremony and prayers by the participants, at the altar of Zeus. The athletes swore to compete with honor, and to respect the rules and regulations of this event.
The games were declared open once an athlete lit the cauldron. "Athlon " was the term used to describe a prize. The awards consisted of a wreath of olive leaves, or a branch of palm, or woolen ribbons.
Only one event was conducted for the first thirteen Olympics. It was known as the "Stadion" race, where the athletes raced up one length of the stadium (192 meters).
In 724 BC, Diaulos was introduced. In this event, an athlete had to race the entire length of the stadium, and back to the starting point. In 720 BC, a long-distance race known as dolichos was introduced. Here, a participant had to run 12 laps around the stadium.
Events such as wrestling, boxing, and pankration, were eventually included in the following years. The other events included were horse racing, chariot racing, and the pentathlon.
Events like armor race and mule race were included in the Olympics of 520 BC and 500 BC, respectively.
Ancient Greek city-states were always at war with one another. All battles were stopped during this festival. The soldiers who also were good athletes, were allowed to travel to Olympia to participate in these games. This was a tradition practiced to honor Zeus. There would be no war or battle for seven days prior, as well as after the battle. Thus, Olympics held in ancient Greece were entirely different from the modern ones.