Ancient Olympic Games

The Eleans proved to be the most capable organizers of the Olympiads. The highest officials of the Games were the Hellanodikai, who initially numbered only two persons, who later then became twelve (one from every tribe of the Eleans). Since 348 BC, their number was restricted to ten. The Hellanodikai, who wore purple robes, were elected by lot from all of the Eleans for each Olympiad and were responsible for organizing the games and the reinforcement of the rules. They had the authority to disqualify individuals from the games at any violation of the rules and to impose fines or punish with public flogging.

At the Altis, every sanctuary had a special staff headed by three theokoloi for each Olympiad, who conducted the main sacrifices. There were also three spondophoroi, who were assigned the duty of travelling throughout the Greek world to announce the celebrations and the Games.

Finnally, there were the seers, descendants of the two oldest prestigious families of Elis, the lamides and the Klytiades, who made prophecies. Several priests conducted the sacrifice ceremonies followed by flute players, dancers, and the heads of ceremonies. The Hellanodikai were helped by the alytai (a kind of policemen), the mastigophora (whippers) and the rabdouchoi (staff bearers), who answered to the alytarch. Ten months before the beginning of the Games, the Hellanodikai stayed in a special building and were informed of their duties. The athletes had to tell them of their partici-pation one year before the Olympiad. With the onset of the Sacred Truce, the believers, official visitors and the athletes swarmed to Olympia. Those who participated in the Games came with the trainers one month earlier, to have the time to prepare themselves and to undergo all the necessary verification. A compulsory condition for participation was Greek origin. The events were open to all free Greeks born of free parents.

Slaves, the Hellanodikai, any person involved in acts of sacrilege or who had broken the Sacred Truce were excluded from the competition. During the intensive training, the athletes were taught the principles of the honest game. After that, during in purifying ceremony, they took oath.

According to Pausanias, only single women were allowed to watch the games. Married women were prohibited from attending. Also, they were not allowed to cross the Alpheios river during the Games, except for the priestess of Demeter Chamyne. Any violation of this rule was punishable by death. The only instance where this rule was broken and the death sentence not carried out was the case of Kallipateira, daughter of the Rhodian Diagoras, who came at the stadium disguised as a trainer to encourage her son Peisidoros, who took part in the games. In her enthusiasm for his victory, she ran to embrace her son, but her chiton fell down, revealing her femininity. The Hellanodikai forgave her and spared her life out of respect for her family, the Diagorides, who gave three generations of Olympic winners: Diagoras, Eukleus, Kallianaktas and Peisidorus. This incident probably had as a consequence, in 396 BC, the passing of a law which compelled the trainers to attend the stadium naked, the same as the athletes.

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Ancient Olympic Games  
Ancient Olympic Games
Ancient Olympic Games
The wrestler Milon, from Croton, took part in seven Olympiads of which he won six.
The Spartan wrestler, Hipposthenes, won five times.
The record for victories in the pentathlon was held by the Elean Gorgos, who won four times. He also won once in both the diaulos and the hoplidromos events.
Chonis of Laconia was seven times champion: four times in the stadion and three in the diaulos, winning four consecutive Olympiads from 668 BC to 656 BC.
The record is held by Leonidas from Rhodes who was twelve times a champion in four consecutive Olympiads, three times in each (stadion, diaulos and hoplitodromos), from 164 BC to 152 BC.
Arrachion the Arcadian was three times a pankration Olympic winner. In the 54th Olympiad (564 BC), his rival, in a tactical manoeuvre, squeezed his hands around his neck and unfortunately Arrachion died of suffocation. The Hellanodikai declared him the winner.
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Beginning with the 77th Olympiad (472 BC), the Games lasted for five days and the program was as follows:

1)On the morning of the first day, the opening ceremony of the Games was carried out with great festivity and celebration in the Bou!eutirion. The athletes were registered there and, in front of the statue of Zeus Horkios, after the sacrifice of a wild boar, fathers and brothers took Olympic oath, along with their trainers. They vowed that they had completed their ten-month training and that they would compete fairly, without violating of the rules. Finally, the Hellanodiaki took their oath to be honest and fair in their judgements. Then, the Hellanodikai and the athletes went to the stadium and the spectators welcomed them.

2)The morning of the second day included the horse and the chariot races in the Hippodrome and in the afternoon, the pentathlon events. The day finished with the mortuary ritual in honour of Pelops, a ritual stating the original religious character of the Games.

3)The third day was the most important, including glorious rites devoted to the worship of Zeus. There was a large festive procession consisting of priests, athletes, the Hellanodikai, the notables of Elis, the Theoroi of all the Greek cities, together with the crowd. They started from the Prytaneion, continued along the Processional Way and headed to the sacred Altis and the Great Altar of Zeus. Here the large sacrifice of a hundred oxen was carried out in honour of Zeus. Then the foot races (stadion, diaulos and dolichos) were held in the afternoon.

4)On the fourth day, the following heavy events took place: wrestling, boxing, pankration and the race in armour.

5)The fifth and the last of the Games, the festive awarding of the prizes to the winners was carried out on the pronaos of the Temple of Zeus, in front of his statue. The crowns were placed on a gold and ivory table. The Hellanodikai crowned the Olympic winners with them while the spectators applauded and threw flowers and leaves. After the awarding of the prizes, a feast was held in the Prytaneion, in the honour of the winners, with the representatives of the Greek cities and the official guests of the sanctuary. The festivities usually lasted until the next morning.
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The Olympic events were held in the stadium and the horse races took place in the hippodrome. The Olympic events included the following:

1) The stadion: a foot race the length of the stadium. The athletes stopped at the end of the stadium without returning to the starting line.

2) The diaulos: a foot race the length of two stadia, where the athletes finished at the starting line of the stadium.

3) The dolichos (long distance race): a foot race which probably had a length of twenty four stadia.. A notable dolichos runner and Olympic winner was Ageus who ran from Olympia to his homeland Argos to announce his victory.

4) The hoplitodromos (race in armour): a foot race the length of two stadia in which the runners were dressed in full armour.

5) The pentathlon: an athletic event made up of five separate events: the stadion, the discus throw, the javelin throw, jumping and wrestling. The winner was the athlete who came first in three of the five events. The pentathlon, according to Aristotle, is the "best event of the Greeks because it is the embodiment of the ideal type of athlete: powerful, fast and flexible”.

6) Boxing was one of the most popular events. The training of the athletes was carried out in the Palaestra and the rules of this event were defined by Onomastos of Smyrna, who was an Olympic winner in 688 BC. The family of Diagoras of Rhodes were the eminent boxers of the 5th century BC. The father, three sons and two grandsons, all earned Olympic titles.

7) The pankration is an event that combining boxing and wrestling. It is a violent event and many times the lfes of the athletes were endangered. One famous pankratist was Polydamas from Thessalia.

Along the time, the following events were added in the horse races held in the hippodrome:
a) According to the legends, in the first chariot race, Pelops, the king of Pisa, beat Oenomaus; secondly, Heracles beat Cycnus, the son of Ares, in a horse race, thereby establishing these two events.
b) In 680 BC the tethrippon chariot race (with four horses) was added.
c) In 648 BC the Teleion Keliton (Perfect Horses) races were added.
d) In 500 BC the apene races with two mules pulling the chariot were added.
e) In 496 BC the calpe or anabates (races for mares) were added.
f) In 408 BC synoris horse races (a chariot race with two horses) were added.
g) In 384 BC chariot races with four colts were added.
h) In 268 BC synoris races with colts were added.
g) In 256 BC the horse races with colts were added.

The guardian of the horse races was Poseidon Hippius. The winner in these events was proclaimed the owner of the chariot or horse and was crowned with an olive twig. In Olympia, under exceptional circumstances, women were allowed to participate in the horse races. The first female Olympic winner was Kyniska, daughter of Archidamus, king of Sparta, who won the chariot races of 396 BC and 392 BC Olympiads.

Since 396 BC, contests for trumpeters and heralds were included in the program of the Games. According to Pausanias, they were carried out on an altar used as a podium situated in front of the northern part of the Echo Colonnade. Here the contesting trumpeters and heralds stood and offered their services during the games, by trumpeting various commands or announcing the winners. An eminent trumpeter was Herodoros of Megara, who won ten Olympic titles from 328 to
292 BC.
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The Olympic title brought fame to an athlete, both in lifetime and after death, in the entire Greek world. Any political or regional disputes were overcome and the immortal Greek ideal was praised in the person of the Olympic winner. The home city of the winner participated in his victory and proud fellow citizens knocked down parts of the city walls through which the victorious man made his entry.

The Olympic winner received wide responsibilities in the cultural events of the city and also in religious duties. In Sparta, he was given the honour of fighting at the side of the king. A poet wrote a victory ode especially for him and the city made him a statue. As Pliny mentioned, the statue did not show the personal features of the athlete, it only became a portrait in special cases, where the athlete had won more than one Olympic title. The name of the athlete, his homeland, his trainer and also the event he had won were all inscribed at the base of the statue.
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The sports gain in professionalism in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. At the regional games, as well as at Olympia the first cases of bribery of the competitors were discovered, as well as buying and selling the victory, agreements between athletes and the representatives of other cities, unfair competition or sacred oath breaking. The decline was substantially favored by the split of the ancient unity of religion and sport, the social honors and financial benefits the Olympic winners received, along with the opinions of the philosophers of those times who criticized every form of physical exercise.

Later, the Romans approached sports in a manner that had little to do with the Greek athletic ideal. The barbarian Sulla plundered Olympia and brought the Olympic games to Rome in 80 BC. He forced the athletes to contest for the amusement of the Romans. A century later, the Olympic institution suffered heavily the humiliating behaviour of Nero.

The philhellenic emperors Hadrian and Antoninus wanted to strengthen the prestige of the games and to support the athletic Olympic ideal, but all their achievements were destroyed by their heirs.

Sadly, in AD 393, the Greek Games were officially banned by a decree issued by emperor Theodorius I of Byzantium. The Olympic Games, since their foundation in 776 BC up to 393 AD, lasted for 1168 years, having 293 editions.
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