WikiReader Athens/history of the Olympic Games
History tells us that in ancient times, Hercules, the strongest of all men, challenged his four brothers to a race before the gods in the fields of Olympia to set the stage for the beginning of the ancient Games. The recorded date was 776 BC, a time when the Greeks marked their calendars in four-year periods called Olympiads. The Games, which took the character of a festival of sports, were held continuously for almost 1,200 years. During the Olympics Peace ruled all over Greece . The athletes who won were hailed as heroes and often elevated to the status of royalty in their home towns, on return to there towns a part of the walls was destroyed as a price of the city to its Olympic Heroes. Statues were built in their honor around the magnificent Temple of Zeus, near the Sacred Grove of Altis and the stadium of Olympia.Athletes usually competed nude. They originally wore shorts but, according to one ancient writer, Pausanias, a competitor deliberately lost his shorts so that he could run more freely during the race in 720 BC, and clothing was then abolished.At its peak during the 4th century BC, the Olympic festival drew crowds not only from the Pelopponesian Peninsula but from colonies as far away as Libya and Egypt. Poets and other writers recited spontaneously, sculptors worked on statues while surrounded by spectators, vendors sold food from stalls, traders from throughout the peninsula sold horses.Women were not allowed to watch the games, but that had nothing to do with the nudity of the male athletes. Rather, it was because Olympia was dedicated to Zeus and was therefore a sacred area for men. The chariot races, which were held outside the sacred precinct, were open to women spectators. (Women had their own sacred festivals from which men were banned, most notably the Heraean festival at Argos, which included a javelin throwing competition. Traveling to Olympia took on the nature of a pilgrimage, which attracted some of the greatest names of Greece's classic period. Plato attended the festival when he was seventy. Demosthenes, Diogenes the Cynic, Pythagoras, and Themistocles all visited Olympia at one time or another. The young Thucydides was in the audience when Herodotus, the "father of history," read from his works.
In 393 AD, the Roman Emperor Theodosius declared the Games corrupt and ended them. Centuries of earthquakes and floods buried Olympia and the Temple of Zeus until 1870 when German excavations unearthed the beauty and magnificent statues of the classical Greek Games. These archeological findings in the sacred ground of Olympia fascinated Baron Pierre de Coubertin so much that he was inspired to conceive the idea of reviving the modern Olympic Games.On June 23, 1894, speaking at the Sorbonne in Paris to a gathering of international sports leaders from nine nations proposed that the ancient Games be revived on an international scale. The idea was enthusiastically received and the Modern Olympics, as we know them, were born.
The first Olympiad was celebrated two years later in Athens, where an estimated 245 athletes (all men) from 14 nations competed in the ancient Panathenaicon stadium before large and ardent crowds.Americans won nine of the 12 track and field events, but Greece won the most medals with 47. The highlight was the victory by native peasant Spiros Louis in the first marathon race, which was run over the same course covered by the Greek hero Pheidippides after the battle of Marathon in 490 B.C.