Where Were the First Olympic Games Held?
The first Olympic Games were held in Greece, in a valley between the Rivers Cladeus and Alpheus. According to tradition they were founded in 776 BC. After that date they were held every four years until they were abolished in AD 393 by the Emperor Theodosius I.
At first, the Games lasted for only one day and were for running and wrestling. Later they became a five-day event, and chariot and horse racing were introduced. Well-trained young men came from all over the Greek world to compete for the prizes—crowns of olive leaves.
Originally a religious festival held in honor of the Olympian Zeus, the competitors took an oath of honesty and fairness in front of the god’s statue. The athletes took part in a program of foot racing, boxing, pancratium (all-in-wrestling), chariot racing and pentathlon (five events of long jumping, running, javelin and discus throwing, and wrestling).
The games became a political tool used by city-states to assert dominance over their rivals. Politicians would announce political alliances at the games, and in times of war, priests would offer sacrifices to the gods for victory. The games were also used to help spread Hellenistic culture throughout the Mediterranean. The Olympics also featured religious celebrations. The statue of Zeus at Olympia was counted as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Sculptors and poets would congregate each Olympiad to display their works of art to would-be patrons.
In the ancient Olympics only freeborn Greek men were allowed to participate, although there were victorious women chariot owners. As long as they met the entrance criteria, athletes from any Greek city-state and kingdom were allowed to participate, although the Hellanodikai, the officials in charge, allowed king Alexander I of Macedon to participate in the games only after he had proven his Greek ancestry. The games were always held at Olympia rather than moving between different locations as is the practice with the modern Olympic Games. Victors at the Olympics were honored, and their feats chronicled for future generations.
In the 19th Century, the idea of the Olympic Games was revived. After a break of 1,500 years, they were held again in Greece in 1896. Since then the Games have been celebrated every four years, except for 1916, 1940 and 1944 when the two World Wars were being fought. In 1924 the special sports of the Winter Olympics were introduced.
The Games have grown so much that nearly every nation is now represented. This growth has created numerous challenges and controversies, including boycotts, doping, bribery, and a terrorist attack in 1972. Every two years the Olympics and its media exposure provide unknown athletes with the chance to attain national and sometimes international fame. The Games also constitute an opportunity for the host city and country to showcase themselves to the world.