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Ancient Olympic Games

Ancient Olympic Games



The ancient Olympics were rather different from the modern Games. There were fewer events, and only free men who spoke Greek could compete, instead of athletes from any country. Also, the games were always held at Olympia instead of moving around to different from site to site each year. Like our Olympics though, winning athletes were heroes who put their hometowns on the map. One young Athenian nobleman defended his political reputation by mentioning how he entered seven chariots in the Olympic chariot-race. This high number of entries made both the aristocrat and Athens look very wealthy and powerful.


One of the more stunning true stories about ancient Greece was that during the Olympic Games, all fighting stopped. No matter how long or how fierce a battle had raged, every soldier in the battlefield put down his weapons and travelled to Olympia, to compete in athletic games designed to honour Zeus and the other Greek gods. For seven days before and seven days after (and for the period of the Games, of course), no fighting was allowed as it was considered disrespectful to the gods.

These soldiers were also allowed to travel safely from the battlefields to the Olympic Games without fear of being attacked by anyone.

Why did this happen? Several reasons can be found:

         The most important is that the Olympic Games were a religious festival. The Greeks considered it their duty to attend, and duty to their gods was more important than duty to their city-states, which were fighting the wars in the first place.

         Many of the best athletes were soldiers whose commanders would not want them to leave the fighting. With the truce in place and the fighting halted, these soldier-athletes were free to compete in the Games and then return to the fighting when the Games had finished.

         Some of the best athletes were not skilled fighters and weren't part of the army or navy. Since war was so much a part of life in ancient Greece , victorious soldiers came to be heroes for their city-states and role models for the young. Having the Olympic Games and showcasing the athletic talents of men who were not soldiers allowed city-states to celebrate heroes and role models who might not be the best fighters.

         The athletes competed for themselves, not their city-states. In this way, they could be celebrated for their own accomplishments and not honoured as only representatives of their city-states. This was another way in which the Olympic Games shifted emphasis away from the city-state. If Demetrius of Corinth won the running race, then he was celebrated as Demetrius – just Demetrius – not Demetrius of Corinth. This was to make sure that battlefield prejudices didn't spill onto the Olympic athletic fields.


The athletes competed for themselves, not their city-states. In this way, they could be celebrated for their own accomplishments and not honoured as only representatives of their city-states. This was another way in which the Olympic Games shifted emphasis away from the city-state. If Demetrius of Corinth won the running race, then he was celebrated as Demetrius – just Demetrius – not Demetrius of Corinth. This was to make sure that battlefield prejudices didn't spill onto the Olympic athletic fields.

The pentathlon was a five-event combination of discus, javelin, jumping, running and wrestling


        Wrestling was popular among the men.

        Wrestling could be won by throwing your opponent 3 times or by forcing him to surrender. There were no rounds.

        There were 3 wrestling events at the Olympics.

        1st event was wrestling.

        2nd event was boxing.

        3rd event was pankration.

        Biting and genital holds were not permitted.

        Wrestling was on the 4th day of the Olympics.



        Boxing started in 336 BCE

        Apollo was the god of boxing

        They wore leather thongs wrapped around their fists to fight (himantes)

        Boxing was on the 4th day of the Olympics.

        The fighters got many cuts due to the ‘sharp thongs’ there opponents wore (from 4th century BC) As a result boxing matches became very bloody contests

        Ancient boxing had fewer rules than the modern sport

        Fought until one man was knocked out – there were no rounds as such; this tested the boxers stamina

        There were no rings; they kept the boxers together with sticks

        No clinging onto ones opponent. If any rules were broken they would be beaten by an official with a stick

        This was the most brutal sport but also a great spectator sport – how nice!



        The Pankration event was wrestling and boxing put together.

        Like the modern sport an athlete needed to throw his opponent on the ground, landing on a hip, shoulder, or back for a fair fall.

        Breaking your opponent's fingers was permitted (especially used in the early stags of the match to give yourself an advantage) however, himantes were not worn



        This was one of the only games that did not have any relation to military exercises

        Discus was on the 4th day of the Olympics.

        People gathered around a small area called the Balbis. The Balbis was marked off by a stone starting line and by rows of pegs on either side.

        The thrower could take as many steps as needed before releasing the Discus.

        Whoever threw the discus the furthest would win.

        The rhythm and precision of an athlete was just as important as his strength.

        The discus was made of stone, iron, bronze or lead with two convex curves.

        Engraved scenes were inscribed on the discus, purely decorative

        Sizes varied as boys were not expected to throw the same weight as the men





        Long Jump is on the 4th day of the Olympics.

        The purpose of this event was to see who could jump the farthest.

        When the people jump they wore heavy armour with weapons.

        Long Jump started in 664 B.C.E


CHARIOT RACING (equestrian events):

        Horse racing took place in a hippodrome, a large stadium that contained a racetrack very much like today's track and field ovals. It contained two pillars at either end marking the start and finish of each race.  

        The athletes would ride in war chariots that were fitted to either two horses (synoris) or four horses (tethrippon). Even with four horses, only one man rode in the chariot. This needed great skill.  

        The races numbered three, eight, or twelve times around, depending on the age of the horse.

        The chariot was a small wooden vehicle with an open back, wide enough of take two standing men (although only one charioteer rode)

        The stronger, faster horse was always placed on the right. This was to make it go efficiently round bends.   

        Everyone tried to take the inside bend on the hippodrome (i.e. the shortest route), however, this caused many collisions but also revealed who had the greatest technique   



        There were 4 different running events.

        1 was racing in armour, where the contestants carried a shield, a helmet and shim plates.

        The others were Stade (Stadium) racing, Dialulos racing and Dolichos racing.

        The Stadium racing was 192 meters. Racing in Armour was 192 meters. Dialulos racing was 2 lengths of the stadium.

        Dolichos racing was 20 – 24 lengths of the stadium.

        Runners wore loin cloth around their waist, but this was then abandoned and they completely de-briefed (the only exception was the armour race)

        A husplex was used to start the races (similar to a modern starting pistol). Early starters were beaten and/or disqualified.

        No pushing, knocking or hindering any of the opponents of any kind (again the armour race was an exception)  

        Athletes of this period were said to have amazing endurance and running speed; most important was their strength, speed and endurance



        Javelin was greatly related to life and incorporated many techniques used in war and hunting.

        The javelin was man-high length of wood, with a sharpened point and lighter than that of combat. It had a thong, a leather strap, for a hurler’s fingers attached to its centre of gravity, which increased the precision and distance of the javelins flight.

        These were also used in war and hunting but they were permanently attached.

        There were two forms of this event, either throwing for distance or at a target.

        When throwing for distance, you started from a fixed point and had to fall within a certain area (similar to modern Olympics) otherwise the throw would be invalid.

        Throwing at a predetermined target was usually carried out on horseback. In doing so, the rider had to ensure co-ordination between the horses gallop and movement of his hand, while still being able to focus on the target.  This required the steady eye, strong hand and flexibility of an experienced horseman    



All of the athletes were men, of course, as was always the case in ancient Greece . Women couldn't own property, vote or fight in wars, and they certainly couldn't compete in the Olympic Games. Unlike today's athletes, who wear their countries' colours on their uniforms, the ancient Greeks usually competed without wearing any clothes at all, just another way in which pride in one's city-state or army was left out of what was supposed to be a religious festival.




How big an occasion were the games?

They were exceptionally famous throughout the (Greek) world. Athletes would travel great distances to participate, and the fact that so many anecdotes about these athletes survives, prove that the games were seen as important factors and events in the Pan Hellenic culture. It was an occasion for the coming together of Greeks of every nation. The games were so important to the Greeks that they would lay down their arms and call for truce before, during and after the games. The truce was hardly ever broken and the one time it did, that Olympiad was wiped of the record and was null and void. There was a strong religious element to the games, and the two were hardly separated. Each contestant would swear to Zeus that he would abide by the rules and accept the judges’ decisions. If anyone was found cheating, they were immediately disqualified from the contest and sometimes fined. This money would go to building a statue which was placed along the tunnel to remind the athletes the importance of obeying the rules.   


The Athletes

Athletes started training since they were sixteen, usually under the guidance of an older trainer. The trainer was considered very important and accompanied the athlete to the game and oversaw the preparations.


What did they receive?

Victors received an olive wreath which was cut from branches from a sacred tree. Their names were also inscribed on official records. In his home town, the victor became a hero and won the honour of his family, and city and some even received a lifetime of free meals. Athletes who won the pentathlon three times, had statues erected in their honour.

Women and the Olympics

Women were not allowed to participate in the Games, however, unmarried women were allowed to watch so they could find a husband (the only exception was the Priestess of Demeter). However, there was another event in honour of the goddess Hera, and they ran a race known as the Heraia. They would wear a tunic that left one part of the chest exposed. Winning in the women’s event was also a big thing. It meant having your name being famous even after you died, through statues etc. ensuring their fame was everlasting not just momentary even after their death.  




        They both had events, which were held in a town or city.

        The modern day Olympics and the Ancient Olympics were held every four years except when there was a war.

        Also they both had participants that competed against each other.

        They both had foot races.

        They both gave prizes.

        They both had a flame.

        They both had torch relays.

        Both were held every four years.

         Both promote the development of physical and moral qualities.



        In the Ancient Olympics only free men who spoke Greek could compete.

        The women couldn’t compete either because it was just held for free men. This was a law back then because the Olympics were religious festivals for men. In the Modern day Olympics men and women of all sizes, ages, colors, and shapes can compete.

        They can compete in the Olympics if they qualify in the preliminaries and then in the finals.

        Another difference between both Olympics is that in the first thirteen Ancient Olympics there was only one event, a 200-yard foot race called the STADE. The reason there was only one event is because it was early in the Olympics history and the people back then didn’t know any different. As opposed to the modern day Olympics where there are many events in different categories. From swimming to pole vaulting the Olympics has it all!

        One more important difference is that in the first couple of Olympics there were only 311 male athletes who competed and they only represented 13 nations as there weren’t a lot of people or nations back in Ancient Greece, which is probably why there weren’t a lot of competitors. On the contrary nowadays there are over 10,000 male and female athletes that compete in the Olympics and they represent over 190 nations. The reason there are so many more athletes and nations is because the world has developed more (i.e. technology with planes etc.) and has grown in population.

        The Ancient Olympic Games gave bronze tripods, laurel leaves for crowns, olive oil, pottery, and fine cloth for their prizes. Prizes given in the Modern Olympic Games are, gold, silver, and bronze medals.

        Clothes weren’t worn in the Ancient Games. In the Modern Olympic Games they wear cloths.

        The Ancient Games were held in Olympia , The Modern Games are held in different countries.

        In the Ancient Games priests were in charge, In the Modern Games the I.O.C, International Olympic Committee, is in charge.

        The Ancient Games were held for five days. The Modern Games are held for seventeen days.

        The reason for the Ancient Games was to honour Zeus. The Modern Games are held to test athletic ability.

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