Ancient Olympic Games Events and History

Ancient Olympic Events

Modern Olympic Games reflect the heritage of the ancient Olympic Games events. Olympic events like boxing and wrestling are just as common today as they were in ancient times. Other sports such as pentathlon, discus throw, javelin throw, and long jump were borrowed and adapted for modern times.

A five day schedule

Initially for many years up to 13 Olympiads, the 200 meters sprint was the only event. As the more events were added, the number of days grew. From the fifth century on the Olympic games schedule was fixed at five days as standard.

Day One

There were no events on the first day of the competition. After the opening ceremony that included the oath taking ceremony of the athletes and judges, the competitors were registered as the schedule were drawn up. Opening of the day was celebrated by presenting the sacrifices to gods.

Day Two

On the second day there were boxing and wrestling. The day ended with celebrations for the young participants.

Day Three

This impressive day began with the “hecatomb,” a sacrifice of 100 oxen to Zeus by the Eleans (Elis controlled Olympia and the Games). Next, the primary events began, starting with chariot races and horse races in the Hippodrome. Then came the pentathlon, a combination of five events (sprint, long jump, discus, javelin, and wrestling), in the stadium.

Day Four

The fourth day opened with the foot races:

  • stadion (200 meters)
  • diaulos (400 meters)
  • dolichos (2,000 meters).

This was followed by wresting, boxing, and pankration wrestling. The final event of each Olympics was a spectacle called the hoplitodromia, a 200-meter sprint in helmet, greaves (calf armor), and shield. 

Day Five

The final day was one long closing ceremony. The gods were honored with sacrifices and ceremonies. The victors were crowned with olive garlands at the elaborate awards ceremony, followed by feasts were held in their honor.

Stadium

First stadium was built in 560 BC and has the track for events and slight slope to seat the spectators.

Second Stadium built tat the end of 600 BC was slightly improved

The improved and final version came around 350 BC. This has large and had a seat capacity of 45000 spectators. There were embankments on all sides for the spectators, a small dais for the judges, a grand entrance tunnel from the sanctuary, and it was ringed by an canal that delivered water to the spectators.

The track of the stadium was a rectangular area, 212 meters long. The ground was a mixture of earth and sand. The start and finish lines were marked by two trenches made of stone and equipped with grooves to form a kind of starting block. One amazing feature of these ancient stadiums is the absence of bends at the corners to accommodate the turns. It is not known how this problem was handled, though a turning post of some kind must surely have played a part.

Track Events

Stadion (1st Olympiad; 776 BC)

This was the simple sprint from one end of the stadium to the other at a distance of 600 feet. This continued as the only event for the first 13 Olympic events.

Diaulos (14th Olympiad; 724 BC)

This was double the length of the stadion. This second-oldest event was run in a straight line from one end of the stadium to the other and back, rather than in an elliptical lap, as we do today.

Dolichos (15th Olympiad; 720 BC)

This was a lengthy race and It is possible that the length was 24 stadia, or 14, 400 feet (4,615 meters).

Hoplitodromos (65th Olympiad; 520 BC)

Participants raced the length of a diaulos (1,200 feet / 384.54 meters) with helmet, greaves (lower-leg armor), and a round shield. This militaristic closing event was a reminder that the Olympic truce was almost over. 

Pentathlon (18th Olympiad; 708 BC)

It was revived by special request of Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympics in the olympic games of Stockholm in 1912. The modern pentathlon consists of horseback riding, pistol shooting, fencing, swimming, and running. Earlier stadion, wrestling, long jump, discus and javelin were the five important games of the pentathlon.

Long jump

Only halters were used in ancient Olympics which propelled the jumper forward and helped him to land when they were thrown backward. This is not present in the modern Olympics.

Discus

This sport is alive even today but the ancient athlete made no more than a three-quarter turn, in contrast to the full spins that are standard technique today. Discuses, which were made of stone or metal, were often marked with inscriptions.

Javelin

The only difference between the ancient and modern versions of this event is the use of the “anklye”—a leather thong used to fling the javelin. This strap, which was wound around the shaft and held by its free end, unwound as the spear was thrown, making the javelin spin and ensuring a steady flight.

Combat Events

Wrestling (18th Olympiad; 708 BC)

In ancient wrestling tournaments, there were no divisions by weight and the bigger contestant won. Matches were held within an area of sand. Once a match began, it continued without interval until one man had thrown his opponent three times. Contestants were allowed to trip, but not to bite, gouge, or punch. Over the years, the variety of holds and tricks grew in number and sophistication.

Boxing (23rd Olympiad; 688 BC)—

In ancient boxing events, there were no rings or breaks or time limits. Victory was declared when one contestant was knocked out. All blows were directed to the head, while the body was left exposed. A sophisticated glove evolved in the course of the years starting from a hand straps.

Pankration (33rd Olympiad; 648 BC)

This was ahugely popular event. The competitors could strike with the fist, an open hand, twist arms, even break fingers!—the pankration seems very violent, yet it was considered less dangerous than boxing. pankration was conducted in an square area where the ground was watered and somewhat muddy. 

Equestrian Events

These were the chariot-horse races between the competitors.Rich owners only could afford to maintain the chariots and horses along with the jockey and the trainers. The owner were awarded instead of the athletes.

The races were dangerous and could also prove fatal at times. Long distances were grueling both for the athletes and the animals.