The ancient Greek olympics
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Many people know a lot about the Olympic Games. Ancient games were a lot smaller than the Olympic Games today with only 300 contestants from 11 different countries. All of America has heard the devastating news that occurred this year at the 2010 Olympics. Nodar Kumaritashvili died after crashing into a metal pole during a luge race. He was only 21 years old competing at the Vancouver Olympics and it took his life. Many people do not realize how violent and dangerous certain Olympic events are. To fully understand the importance of the Olympics you need to know about the Ancient Olympic Games (Papantoniou).
According to Findling, Heracles, Zeus's son, founded the ancient Olympics. Yet the first Olympic Games were held in 776 BCE. At this Olympic Games, a runner named Coroebus, won the running event. Coroebus became the very first Olympic champion. The ancient Olympic Games became bigger and more popular so they continued to be played every four years for nearly 1,200 years (Findling).
At the beginning, the Olympic Games were played as part of a religious practice. People put their passion for religion into sport and competition. This hereby became a religious ritual for the Greeks (Papantoniou). The Olympic Games were the most famous of all other games by far and they were held in Olympia.
According to Papantoniou, the idea of rebirth soon came along and when it did many cults were formed. The idea of rebirth came from the idea of creation. We are created from the coming together of a male and female, which was obvious. During this process of birth, the Earth has been said to give us life. The Earth, with the help of Mother Nature, contains everything that people need to live. The divine force of Mother Nature created the idea of rebirth. Soon the religious cults were formed and competition became an important ritual (Papantoniou). The purpose of the Olympic events was to "demonstrate bodily strength and vigor" (Papantoniou).
According to Findling, once the first full moon came out the games were able to begin. At the beginning, the games only lasted a day but soon the games became so popular new sports were added. Soon, the games lasted a full five days. The first day of the festival was meant for sacrifices for the Gods. Some athletes liked to pray alone and make sacrifices themselves.
Most Greek athletics were for one person to compete with another as opposed to playing on teams. The athletes took part in running, wrestling, disc-throwing, boxing, javelin-hurling and many other sports. The second day of the games was the day of the foot-race. There was not merely one type of race that the athletes took part in. There were four different kinds. The first and oldest was stadion, where runners sprinted for 1 stade, which was the length of the stadium. The other races were a 2-stade and long-distance races. The fourth type of race involved runners wearing full armor. This race was good for preparing men for the military. It increased strength and stability for the men competing to get them ready for war.
The other events besides the races were held after the second day of the Games. Pancratium, which was a mix of wrestling and boxing, got kind of intense. To succeed in wrestling the player was to heave the other wrestler on the ground three times. It was not that simple, however. The opponent couldn't just land any such way. They were to land on their hip, back or shoulder. To avoid any serious injury, ancient Greece had specific rules that were to be followed. Biting your opponent and grabbing their genitals was frowned upon during wrestling or the pancratium.
When the games had first begun, boxing was not very violent. Although boxing was not too intense, protection was very important. The Greeks were always looking for ways to avoid injury in games like this. In this case, the boxers put leather on their fingers, much like a modern day boxing glove. These leather straps helped with the pain of being hit. However, as time went on, the players came up with more and more violent strategies to make their way to the top. After this more protection was necessary and new finger straps were created. The intensity of boxing was nothing compared to that of the pancratium. It was so brutal that it was not declared over until one of the players accepted defeat.
The people who had enough money to own horses were able to train their horses to compete in races. There were races where the horse wore a saddle to make riding easier but in other races the horse had to be bareback. Bareback riding is riding without a saddle which was very difficult because the riders had nothing to hold onto. Much like when a man wins a competition he receives an olive branch, so does the winning horse. The person who trained and rode the horse to victory receives no credit. In the Olympics there were also Chariot races. These races included small chariots led by 2 horses and larger ones led by 4 horses.
The pentathlon came after the day of the horse races. The pentathlon included five sports for the athletes to take part in. The events were all very different from one another. Sprinting and wrestling were two of the five events. It was tough since all of the events were so different. If an athlete succeeded at one event he might fail at another. Many of the athletes had to throw javelins and discuses as part of their competition. The final event in the pentathlon was the long jump. Not only was strength important but also stamina and precision (Findling). In order to succeed at jumping the farthest many men would use weights to make them jump further.
Many people from out of the area would come to Olympia for their religious festivals. These popular festivals brought many more athletes to the area looking to play in the Games. Gymnasiums were built in Greece for people to practice and play less serious games. The gymnasiums were not only a place to practice but also a place to get protection from the sun. Each gymnasium contained a bath for men to not only clean but also to oil themselves. Athletes often covered themselves in oil before competing in the hot sun for protection (Findling).
These competitive games were taken very seriously and they symbolized many things. According to Papantoniou, if you won a game, instead of getting a medal or a trophy, you were crowned with a wild olive branch. The olive branch symbolizes God so if you are crowned, the olive branch promises godliness and that you will live forever. According to Findling, after winning a competition, the winners would return home only to be escorted to their own town. According to Papantoniou, if you won a competition you would therefore have a divine presence and just the thought of you would bring up the word fertility. After these competitions were made-up, fertility of nature became associated with these human activities. A triumph in any one of these games was seen as a direct effect of divine will. The winners were looked upon as heroes or even gods to everyone. These physical activities "both influenced the ritual process and were influenced by it in turn" (Papantoniou). According to Fling, rewards were given to the winners of certain events such as wrestling and boxing from the pain that one must endure.
According to Findling, Greek literature and art all included athletics in some way shape or form. Physical ability was extremely important to the Greeks. Not only physical strength was important but also strength of the mind.
According to Papantoniou, some people believed that the Olympic Games were a creative way to select their king. When the King competed in the games, if he was not the winner, everyone would know that he was not a worthy leader. He cannot continue to be King if his "power and vigor begin to decline." For this reason the Olympics was to be held so that the King's strength could be put to the test. In the mythical era, everyone believed that if the King won it was because he was chosen by God. If the King lost, God has chosen someone else to take over. "Cronus, Zeus, Apollo, Hermes and Ares were the first to participate in the games, followed by Idaean Heracles, Pelops, Oenomaeus, Heracles, the Dioscouri and a whole host of kings and rulers" (Papantoniou).
According to Papantoniou, the Olympic Games were mostly for men to watch. Unmarried women were allowed to attend to find a husband. However, married women were not allowed to watch "on pain of death" (Papantoniou). According to Fling, although unmarried women were allowed to attend the Olympic Games, there were only certain days on which they were able to. If any woman was to be caught at the Olympic Games on a day that they were not supposed to be, they were to be pushed down Mount Typaeum. Mount Typaeum was a tall mountain that expanded from Scillus to Olympia and it would be torture for anyone who fell down it. The only woman who has ever been caught at the Games when she wasn't supposed to be was Callipateria. Her son was to compete in the Olympics so she disguised herself as a trainer. Her son, Peisirodus was victorious. Soon Callipateria's identity had become known. She was scared for her life. Her father, brother and son all competed in the Olympic Games and all were victorious. Because of this, there was an exception to the rule and she was left unpunished. Because of her mistakes there has been a new law put in place for trainers to show themselves before coming into the area with the players (Fling).
According to Durrant, The real question here is not who can attend the Olympics but who can compete. Of course not all people who want to participate can participate. Like many things in life there were restrictions for the Olympic Games. Only free-born Greek citizens were allowed to participate in the Olympic Games (Durrant). Boys competed with boys. Men competed with men of the same age. Only at Sparta, did girls take part in the contest. "To be eligible for participation in the Olympic Games, a competitor must observe the traditional Olympic spirit and ethic and have always participated in sport as an avocado without having received any remuneration for his participation" (Durrant). According to Durrant, Amateurs are frowned upon during the Olympics. An amateur is anyone who decides to participate in the games merely for their own benefits. These benefits may include social benefits, physical or mental benefits. It's better to see a man take on a task just to test himself. There is not a problem as long as the competition is constrained to a distinct population. There will be a problem when a competitor moves to a different population that has more rigid rules and standards. Professionalism began in the sixth century B.C. when Solon decided that anyone who won in the Olympic Games would be given 500 drachmae. Soon after the invention of professionalism, athletic games became a full time job for some. Plato said that the athlete who "ends by becoming a hater of philosophy, uncivilized, never using weapons of persuasion,ââ‚¬"he is like a wild beast, all violence and fierceness, and knows no other way of dealing; and he lives in all ignorance and evil conditions, and has no sense of propriety and grace" (Durrant).
You may be wondering what the proper attire for the Olympic Games were in ancient times. According to Fling, The Lacedaemonians were the first players who decided that being naked during the games were easier. They also are the ones who discovered the protection that oil gave their bodies. Before nudity, the competitors wore nothing but loin cloths (Fling).
According to Fling, the ancient Olympic Games ended 393 AC. The modern Olympics began at the end of the XIX century. Baron Pierre de Coubertin brough back the Olympics with his impressive proposal. Everyone was so excited about the return of the Olympics that the first Modern Olympic Games were to take place in Athens in 1896. Before Baron, other people had tried to bring the Olympics back but no one was successful. So as we can see much about the Olympics has changed. Although the Olympics were invented in ancient times, they still live on today.
- Durrant, Sue M. "And Who May Compete?." Quest (00336297) 22.(1974): 104-110. SPORTDiscus with Full Text. EBSCO. Web. 4 Feb. 2010.
- Findling, J. E., & Pelle, K. D. (1996). Historical Dictionary of the Modern Olympic Movement. Westport: Greenwood Press.
- Fling, Fred Morrow. A Source Book of Greek History. 1907. 04 February 2010 <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/greekgames.html>.
- Papantoniou, G. "Religiosity as a main element in the ancient Olympic Games." Sport in Society 11.1 (2008): 32-43. SPORTDiscus with Full Text. EBSCO. Web. 2 Feb. 2010.
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