Ancient Olympics (776 B.C.-394 A.D.)The Olympics (776 B.C.-394 A.D.) - The history of ancient athletic competition surely did not begin with the Greeks, but under their civilization it became sophisticated enough and organized enough to be held as a quadrennial event. The first known Olympic Games were held in 776 B.C., though they certainly began before then. In fact, the games themselves were steeped in mythology by the Greeks. In addition to being an athletic tradition, they were also a religious one, honoring Zeus. The first day, before the games began, animal sacrifices were made to the gods. Held in Olympia, the city-state from which they took their name, competitors came from all over the Greek world (as well as Macedon) to display their athletic prowess. So influential had they become that truces (ekecheiria) were called between warring states in order to allow their athletes to compete, and armies were forbidden to enter Olympia. Indeed, among rival cities, the games had become a source of bragging rites for the victors.


Initially a one-day event, by 472 B.C. the Olympics had grown to five days as more events were added. These events included: boxing, chariot racing, horseback riding, wrestling, pankration (a combination of boxing and wrestling), various foot races and the pentathlon, which consisted of the javelin, the discus, the long jump, a foot race (called the stadion) and wrestling. Victors were awarded laurel wreaths and their names recorded for posterity. Some of the wealthier cities rewarded their athletes financially. Women were forbidden from participating or even attending the games, however, they were allowed to enter horses in the equestrian events if they owned them. The Olympics continued even after Greece was conquered by Rome, but the last games were held in 394 A.D., after which they were abolished by Emperor Theodosius I as a pagan festival.