The Ancient Olympic Games: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about the Ancient Greek Olympics.

  • The first ancient Olympic Games was held in 776 BC on the plains of Olympia (in the Peloponnese – a peninsula in southern Greece).
  • The games were held in honour of the Ancient Greek gods.

  • Although the ancient Olympic Games were linked to religion (particularly the worship of Zeus), they also helped to build relationships between the different cities of Ancient Greece.
  • The winners of the events in the ancient Olympics were treated like heroes. As soon as the event was finished, the winner be given a palm branch and the crowd would throw flowers to him. Red ribbons were also tied to his hands. An official ceremony for the winners was held at the end of the Games in the temple of Zeus. An olive tree wreath (called a kotinos) was used to crown the Olympic winners.
  • In Greek mythology, the great hero, Herakles, was responsible for staging the first games.
  • The ancient Olympic Games started out as a one-day event. By the 5th century BC, the Games lasted five days.
  • Several events were included in the ancient Olympic Games, such as: Pentathlon (running, jumping, discus, wrestling and boxing), Pankration (a form of early martial arts which took inspiration from both wrestling and boxing), horse racing and chariot racing and shot put.
  • All free male Greeks could take part in the Games. Women were not allowed to compete, and married women weren’t even allowed to watch. Kyniska of Sparta broke this rule when she won a chariot race in 396 BC. The laurel wreath of victory was awarded to the owner of the horses (a man), though, and not Kyniska herself.
  • The ancient Olympic Games were banned by Emperor Theodosius in 393 AD. He thought they were nothing more than a ‘pagan cult’.
  • In the long jump event – which probably didn’t involve a run-up – athletes held weights called medias to help them to stabilize the body. These were swung to build momentum.