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The Ancient Olympics
The ancient Olympics were a festival that had probably been going on long before the first champion was ever crowned. The Olympics were not just for athletic competition; the festival was also for music, poetry, and other art forms. When the events were revived in the early 19th century the art festivities were not revived with them (Girardi).
The Olympics took place at Olympia, located in a wooded valley in the western Peloponnese. The area is surrounded by hills on three sides with a river to the south. The ancient Olympics had a very close connection to religion. The landscape of Olympia was covered with many statues, shrines, and temples. Two of the greatest temples of the ancient world were at Olympia. The temple to Zeus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and the oldest sanctuary in Greece the temple of Rhea, the mother of gods, was also here (Macmillan).
Nobody knows for sure when the Olympics actually started but the first known games took place in 776 BC. The ancient events were held every four years just like the modern ones. The first 77 meetings of the games had only one event, a one stade (about 200 yards) long foot race (Macmillan). More games were eventually added to the festival; the long run in 720 BC, the pentathlon in 708 BC, boxing in 688 BC, chariot racing in 680 BC, the pancratium in 648 BC, and the foot race in armor was added in 580 BC (Columbia). After other events were added the games had to be lengthened to five days. The first day of the games there was animal sacrifices, the taking of the Olympic oath, swearing in of judges and athletes, and a trumpeterís contest. The second day had all the contests for boys. The boys competed in the same events as the men. The men and boys were separated by physical appearance. On the third day the men competed in foot races, wrestling, boxing, pancratium (a mixture of boxing and wrestling), and racing in armor. The fourth day had the menís pentathlon, and chariot and horse races. The fifth day had more animal sacrifices and banquets in honor of the winners. The winners were awarded only a crown of wild leaves from a sacred olive tree. However when the athletes returned to their hometown they were treated as heroes. There were statues of them erected, and they were given a place of honor at all public events. They received free board at the Prytameam in Athens. They usually received gifts of money and land from their villages, and didnít have to pay any taxes. Athletes came from all over Greece and in itís later years even farther. Everyone knew the importance of the games religiously so during the games all wars were stopped (Finley, Chapter 2).
Most people think that the athletes in the games always competed naked, but this isnít true. The athletes competed in a loincloth until sometime in between 688 and 680 BC. Women were always banned from the games both as spectators and participants, however one woman did manage to sneak in. Pisidores of Rhodes was a participant in the boxing competition at one of the games. His mother, Pherenice, disguised herself as an athlete so she could watch her son compete in the games. When her son won the competition she was so happy that when she ran to hug her son her robe slipped and exposed her. Usually a woman who tried to attend the games would be put to death but Pherenice was spared because her husband had died while their son was training for the games, and her father and brothers had been Olympic champions she was spared (Schaap).
The Ancient games had their own celebrities like the modern games Michael Johnson or Jesse Owens. The first winner of any Olympic event was Coroebus of Elis, He won the one stade foot race in 776 BC. There are many other Olympic legends but perhaps the greatest was Milo of Criton. Milo was a wrestler and was a six time Olympic champion, once as a boy and five times as a senior. He was also a champion at many other, less popular games; a six
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