The History of the Olympic Games
The first Olympic games at Olympia were held in 776 B.C. Scholars have speculated that the games in 776 B.C. were not the first games, but rather the first games held after they were organized into festivals held every four years as a result of a peace agreement between the city-states of Elis and Pisa.
The games were held every four years from 776 B.C. to 393 A.D. when they were abolished by the Christian Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I. The ancient Olympic Games lasted for 1,170 years. If the Modern Olympic games last that long, they will still be held in 3066 A.D.
The ancient Greeks were highly competitive and believed strongly in the concept of "competition" or "contest". The ultimate Greek goal was to be the best. All aspects of life, especially athletics, were centered around this concept. It was therefore considered one of the greatest honors to win a victory at Olympia. The fact that the only prize given at Olympia was an olive wreath illustrated this point. The athletes competed for honour, not for material goods.
In ancient Greece, games were closely connected to the worship of the gods and heroes. Games were held as part of religious ceremonies in honour of deceased heroes. Games were also held in the context of many ancient fertility festivals. Later, the Olympic games began to be usurped by the prominent cult of Zeus, and eventually lost much of their religious character.
The Greek calendar was based on the conception of the four-year Olympiad. When Greek historians referred to dates, they most often referred to a year within the Olympiad that the event occurred. The winner of the state race in a given year had the Olympiad named in honour of him. The first Oympiad is therefore known as that of Koromikos of ELis, the winner of the state in 776 B.C.
Every four years for over 1,100 years, from 776 B.C. to 393 A.D., thousands of people ceased all warfare and flocked to a small sanctuary in north-western Greece for five days in the late summer for a single reason—to witness the Olympic Games. During that time, competitors from all over the Greek world competed in a number of athletic events and worshipped the gods at the sanctuary of Olympia. However, unlike modern Olympics, only free men who spoke Greek could compete and the games were always held at Olympia instead of moving around to different sites every time.
From the beginning, the games at Olympia served to strengthen the Greek sense of national unity. During the Hellenisitic period, Greeks who came to live in foreign surroundings such as Syria, Asia, and Egypt, strove to hold on to their own culture. One of the ways they did was to build athletic facilities and continue their athletic traditions. They organized competitions, and sent competitors from their towns to compete in the Panhellenic games. In the 2nd century A.D., Roman citizenship was extended to everyone within the Roman empire. After this point there were many competitors from outside of Greece, and the Olympic games became more internationalized. When the Greek government reinstated the games in 1896, this internationalized character of the competitions was preserved by Baron de Coubertin. Now, the Olympic games attract competitors from countries all over the world.