11 Surprising Facts About The Ancient Greek Olympics

The ancient Greeks were known for their competitive spirit and the various celebrations that were practiced in honor of the gods. Competitions were often held in honor of the gods Zeus and Dionysus and were with strong religious charge. The feasts included sports games that have over time become traditional and were at first held every year then every two years and so on until it came to today’s every fourth year. There are different opinions about the establishment of the Olympics. According to some it was founded by the god Zeus himself, and by Hercules according to others, however, what we can say with confidence is that the Olympics certainly date back to the 8th century BC. Some of the surprising things that you certainly have not heard of are related to the Olympics.

Athletes Were Always Nude

There was a lot of speculation about this as it was thought that athletes were naked only on the paintings and sculptures, as a personal experience of the artist. However, this is true. The competitors were naked. Their bodies have been designed to perfection through the training and the nakedness symbolized eternal beauty as well as the symbiosis of body and soul.

The Athletes Kept Impeccable Hygiene And Body Care

This is a little known fact. From when they got to high school, the institution where they were taught and coached, they would begin to learn to take care of their hygiene, since they were naked. The whole process would include olive oil and a layer of dust with fine sand that athletes rubbed into the skin. It would protect them from the sun, but also from the occasional hits from the coach in case they can get the set task done. Upon completion of the training, the layer had to be taken off with water and a sponge. And this was done each time before the competition.

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Women And Slaves Were Not Allowed To Compete

The fact that women and slaves were forbidden to compete is closely associated with the concepts of society and social life in ancient Greece. In fact, in ancient Greece, women, slaves and foreigners were considered second-class citizens and were not free to participate in all social activities, for example in political decisions but also the Olympics. Only adult men, born Greeks could participate. Later, in 6th century BC, Hera’s Games were established, only for women.

The Olympic Games Participants Were Often From Rich Families

Often people confuse Ancient Olympics with gladiatorial games held in the beginning of the new era and think that the participants were slaves. What a mistake. A large number of contestants came from wealthy families who were interested in sport but also, it was one of the methods for attracting the attention of the public. An Armenian, Varazdat, is well known, who was the winner in the competition in boxing at one of the Olympics, and he belonged to the royal family.

Much Like In Today’s Competitions, There Was Cheating In The Ancient Games

Theorists have tended to believe that ”before” everything was ”better” than it is today, so they believe that the ancient Olympics were an example of honesty and the embodiment of incorruptibility. That’s not true. Participants were often known to bribe, threaten or blackmail the judges to ensure victory. Temptation was extremely high, because the winners automatically become famous and the material reward was very significant, because the rewards were very lucrative.

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The Champions Of The Games Were Considered Equal Of The Gods

It was a great honor to be the winner of the Olympics. The winner received the olive wreath which symbolized the crown and a red tunic. In his hometown, he was honored greatly, from the poets who would sing epos in his honor to the statues and coins with his image. What made him equal to the gods was the fact that the Greeks believed that the winner shall be decided by the goddess Nike, the goddess of victory. And the fact that she chose a particular person, cannot be an accident.

The Original Famous Statue Of The Athlete Throwing A Disc Was Destroyed

The famous figure, symbolizing the Olympics in ancient Greece, The Discobolus is actually a Roman replica of a Greek original that was long lost. Myron, the famous sculptor made the Discobolus sometime in the 5th century BC, the Roman version, according to experts was created around 2 centuries BC.

Married Women Were Not Permitted To Watch The Games

The married women were not allowed, by the laws of ancient Greece, to attend the Olympics and the violation of this order was followed by a strict penalty. This is probably because the contestants competed naked. And it is known that the ancient Greeks were very careful when it comes to family and did not want to face the eventual infidelity or bigger problems

The Opening Of The Games Was Marked By Animal Sacrifice

As already mentioned, sports competitions were initially closely connected with religious rites. In Greek mythology, as well as in almost all religions, it was common to appease the gods by sacrifice, so that before each competition, the Greeks sacrificed mostly domestic animals to the Gods. Sometimes larger animals were sacrificed, such as bulls.

Unlike Today, There Was Only One Winner Of The Games

Greeks did not believe in the saying ”it is important to participate” as Pierre De Coubertin did many years later. At the Olympics there could be only one winner, on which the mercy of gods rested, and who would get the wreath made from an olive tree near the temple of Zeus.

Emperor Theodosius Abolished The Olympic Games In 393 AD

After the year 313 and ‘the victory of Christianity’ the Emperor Constantine declared freedom of Christianity in order to even all the religions in the Roman Empire, Christianity suddenly began to grow. Almost all the emperors, especially in the Byzantium Empire, were Christians. And in this wave, the Emperor Theodosius issued an edict or decree whereby prohibiting all pagan festivals. The Olympic Games were considered to be leftover from pagan times, and were eliminated.

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