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The Ancient Olympic Games

As we watch world-class international athletes compete at the Beijing Winter Olympics, it is fascinating to compare the modern Games with their ancient predecessors.

The sporting events at Olympia were held on an official basis every four years from 776 BCE in honor of Zeus, the supreme god of the Greek pantheon.

Initially, there was only one event — the Stadion Footrace. It was a race run over one length of the stadium (approx.192 meters) and would continue to be the most prestigious event throughout the history of the Games.

Eventually, the Games were held over five days rather than one, and the number of events rose gradually throughout the years. Other events added included longer footraces, wrestling, boxing, and the chariot race.

The Hoplitodrome was a footrace where all the athletes wore full hoplite armor, and the Pankration was a mix of boxing and wrestling.

Each event winner would be given a kotinos, or victory crown, made from the branches of a sacred olive tree at Olympia. Another prize was the taenia, or red woolen ribbon, which would be tied around the head, and sometimes the upper arm and leg. After the Games, the victors returned to their hometowns as heroes.

In 393 AD, the Games were ended by Roman Emperor Theodosius I. It wasn't until 1896 that the modern Olympic Games kicked off in Athens Greece.

Works cited:

“Olympic Games.”,

“5 Ways the Ancient Olympics Differ from the Modern Games > News > USC Dornsife.”,

Penn Museum. “The Games | the Real Story of the Ancient Olympic Games - Penn Museum.”, 2018,


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