The Legendary Olympics

If I were to put forward a question to you - what is the first thing that you will associate with the word 'unity' - what will your instantaneous reply be? Mahatma Gandhi? United Nations? Anything else? Perhaps, the renowned Olympics Games?

The idea of the Olympic Games actually started in ancient Greece. The initial intention of the Greeks in having such a large-scale event was to honour the Greek god Zeus. Greek mythology has it that Heracles, a son of the god Zeus, was responsible in establishing the Olympic Games. It was said that Heracles had constructed a collossal stadium and its surrounding buildings in order to honour his father Zeus.

Nonetheless, valid records suggest that the first ever Olympic Games was held in 776 B.C., in the ancient Greek city of Olympia, hence its name. In fact the games were held only in Olympia and nowhere else. Records suggest that the purpose of the games, besides honouring Zeus, was also to foster unity amongst the various cities in ancient Greek. Thus, wars between Greek cities ceased when the games were held every four years.

A reenacted version of the ancient Olympics

The opening ceremony of the ancient Olympics is not as extravagant as what we always see now, with pompous celebrations and performances adorning the occassion, contributing to the awesome grandeur of the much anticipated event. In ancient Greece, the opening ceremony merely involved a large-scale procession from the city of Elis to Olympia, covering a distance of approximately 34 miles. This was closely followed by purification ceremonies and exclusive sacrifices to Greek deities.

Ancient Olympic events are not as numerous as what we see presently. Events held in the ancient Olympics included marathons, disc-tossing, javelin throwing, long jump, boxing, wrestling and even horse chariot races. There were no water events or team-sports events. Events alternated with sacrifices and religious ceremonies honouring Zeus and Pelops, mythical king of Olympia. All these grand events frequently attracted foreigners and dignitaries from distant lands, subsequently benefiting numerous entertainers, merchants and traders in Olympia.

Participation in the events were open only to free men who could speak Greek. Women and enslaved men were not permitted to take part or even observe the games. In fact, any woman found at the site of the games were even subjected to being thrown down a cliff! There were no distinct teams representing each city of ancient Greece as each man is the representative of himself. Men usually competed nude in the events due to the notion that the Games was held as a form of celebration of the achievements of the human body. Participants who emerged victorious in any event were greatly praised and 'immortalized' in the form of poems and statues.

To conclude the Olympic Games, the ancient Greeks held a symbolic closing ceremony in the Temple of Zeus and it involved celebration for the triumphant athletes. The statue of Zeus was crowned with a golden wreath to indicate his greatness over other gods. Triumphant athletes were bestowed with crowns made of olive branches and were showered with fragrant flowers before they returned to their respective places of origin as revered heroes.

Emperor Theodosius I

The ancient Olympic Games lost its significance when ancient Greece was conquered by the Romans. The Games lasted all the way until 393 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Theodosius I of Rome. Emperor Theodosius I had declared Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, thus banning the Olympics, deeming it to be a paganic festival. Hence, the ancient Olympic Games saw its demise.

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