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The Ancient Olympics

Everyone knows what Modern Olympics is all about - probably but not subjected to Money, Fame, Medals, Trophies, Passion and etc. But, few know about Ancient Greek Olympicswhich is why I will be sharing the more commonly asked questions (FAQ-S) about the Ancient Olympics!  

The palaestra of Olympia-the place where athletes trained. (Wikipedia)


Basically, here are the 4 things people are MOST curious about:

  1. Origin of the Ancient Greek Olympics
  2. The events
  3. What are the rewards for the winners?
  4. Are women allowed?


  1. Origin of the Ancient Greek Olympics

Zeus - God of Sky, Lightning, Thunder, Law, Order & Justice. (Wikipedia)

The Ancient Olympics first started in the 776 BC at Olympia, Southwest Greece (A valley near a city called Elis) and was held in honour of Zeus, King of all Gods. Unlike the Modern Day Olympics, the Ancient Olympic was only held at Olympia because it was stated in history that ONLY the Greek speaking free men were allowed to participate. This meant that athletes from other countries were not allowed to participate and thus the location don’t have to be changed to accommodate others.


  1. The Events

So, what are the events and how long do they lasts?

The first Ancient Olympics was a 1-day Olympic Games where the only event was Stadion (Short print from one end of the stadium to the other end.) But later on, the 1-day Olympic Games gradually extend to 5-days and of course more events are added.

The ancient games include running, long jump, shot put, javelin, boxing, pankration and equestrian events. However, the Pentathlon events only include 5 events – Running, Wrestling, Javelin, Discus and Long Jump.

To better understand the events, here’s a short summary:


  • Stade race (Test of speed, covering the Olympia tracks from one end to another, about 200m foot race.)
  • Diaulos (2 Stades / 400m foot race.)
  • Colichos (Ranging between 7 and 24 Stades.)



This Greek amphora (jar) depicts the sport - long jump. The jumper holds lead or stone weights, to help him jump further. Pegs in the ground mark previous jumps. (BBC)

  • Athletes used Halteres (Stone or lead weights) to increase the distance of their jump. They will hold on to the weights until the end of their flight then throw it backwards.



An athlete about to throw a discus. (BBC)

  • Originally stone was used to make discus but gradually, it was made with lead, iron, lead or bronze.
  • Game techniques were similar to modern day discus.



Two Greek wrestlers. c. 510 BCE. (National Archaeological Museum, Athens)

  • Athletes see this event as a form military training or exercise without any weapons.
  • Winners are decided when opponents admit defeat.



Boxing sport. (Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of the University Museums, University of Mississippi)

  • Originally, boxers will wrap soft Himantes (straps) around their hands to protect their wrist and fingers to strengthened and steadied them. However, they gradually wrapped harder leather straps around their hands and this often caused opponents to be disfigured.



  • The toughest and nastiest event of all. It is like a hybrid of wrestling and boxing except it did not have much rules.
  • Main rules were, no digging of eyes, nose and orifices. But, athletes were allowed to kick stomach or any other parts of opponent’s body.
  • Basically, it is a “bloody fighting” violent event.



  • 2 main type – Chariot Racing & Riding
  • Chariot Racing: (2 horses & 4 horses race)
  • There are other separate race for other animals (e.g: mules & foals) other than horses.
  • Distance = 12 laps around the stadium track.
  • Riding: (Jockeys were hired to ride horses or foals.)
  • Distance = 6 laps around the stadium track.
  • The prize will be given to the owner of the horses as they are the ones paying for all the expenses (Feeding/Training Jockey and Horse)
  • Usually, only the wealthy will be able to participate in this event thus only the owner of the horses will receive the reward – the wreath (made of olive leaves) of victory.


  1. What are the Rewards for the Winners?

What’s do you think is in for the Winners? Drumroll please

The winners will get a wreath (crown) make from olive leaves. Yes, OLIVE LEAVES, NO TROPHIES NO MONEY. However, the winners are entitled to have a statue of themselves erected at Olympia. (What a great honour!) They are also seen as “celebrities” in their town and often had their meals at public’s expense or given good seats in the theatre. Some winners even got to marry into wealthy families.


  1. Are Women Allowed?

YES and NO.

YES only for maidens (unmarried women). Maidens ARE ALLOWED to attend the Ancient Olympics but NOT participate. They can only participate in Equestrian events (Chariot Racing & Riding) because they ARE ALLOWED to send their own horses in to compete.

NO for the married women and it is punishable by death if they attended the event because men participated nude in the events to celebrate achievements of the human body and married women were supposed to look only at their husbands.

However, Spartan Women ARE ALLOWED to participate in the events and can even exercise nude with the men which is a huge contrast with The Athens. (Talk about unfairness!)