What were the first Olympic Games like?
Special to the Whig
Dear Librarian: What were the first Olympic Games like?
Dear Reader: Do you love the Olympics as much as I do? Every four years, I get so pumped for them. I put my American flag shirt on, put a viewing party together, and spend two weeks glued to the TV or my phone.
My favorite part is the opening ceremony, which always gives me goose bumps. It gets me to wondering: what were the first Olympics like?
In 776 BC (over 2,700 years ago!), the Olympics were first created as a religious festival in honor of Zeus, the king of the Gods. Just like the modern games, the ancient Olympic events happened every four years in at the Sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia, a valley near the city of Elis. Olympia was named after Mt. Olympus, the highest mountain in mainland Greece, and where the great Greek gods and goddesses resided, according to mythology. All city-states of Greece were to attend. The Olympics had a “sacred truce” where feuding was put on hold for a month to guarantee safe travel for the athletes.
The first edition of Olympic Games wasn’t too exciting. It had only one event: a sprint. Throughout the centuries, more events began appearing at the Games, including long jump, discus, javelin throws, wrestling, boxing, and chariot racing. Winners were considered heroes of their citystates, similar to how we treat our Olympic winners. While they probably didn’t get a Nike contract, they were idolized by citizens, received free food and libations, and gained access to important parties and dinners.
Crowds up to 40,000 would flock to the Games in order to catch a glimpse of the athletes. But these spectators consisted of only men and unmarried women, as married women were not allowed to participate or watch. There was, however, a separate, smaller event in honor of Hera, the wife of Zeus, where women could participate.
The Olympic Games lasted for nearly 12 centuries. During the mid-2nd century AD, the Roman Empire conquered Greece and while the games continued, they didn’t match up to the initial splendor of the first Olympic games. Eventu- ally in 393 AD, Emperor Theodosis I, a Christian, banned all “pagan” festivals, including the Games.
For 1,503 years, there were no Olympic Games, not until a Frenchman named Baron Pierre de Coubertin presented the idea in 1894. In 1896, the Games restarted again in Athens, with 14 countries participating. Now, over 13,000 athletes perform in the Olympic Games, with a new city acting as host every four years.
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What People Are Asking runs weekly in Jumpstart and is written by librarians at the Cecil County Public Library. Questions? Visit your local branch, email ask@ccplnet. org, call 410-996-5600 or visit www.cecil.ebranch.