The birth of the Olympic Games


Of all the Panhellenic games in ancient Greece, the most important took place in Olympia. "As water is the most precious of the elements, and as gold stands forth as the most precious of all goods, and as, finally, the sun shines more brightly than any other star, so Olympias shines overshadowing every other race." sings Pindar in his first Olympic ode. According to tradition, the gods first fought in Olympia. Zeus defeated Saturn in wrestling, Apollo defeated Mercury on the road and Mars in boxing. Also the ancient sources mention several heroes as founders of the races. The myth of Pelops belongs to the Mycenaean tradition. After his victory over Oenomaus, Pelops instituted games in honor of Oenomaus to purify himself, but also to thank the gods for the victory they had given him. Hippodamia founded women's competitions in honor of Hera, the so-called Heraia. So the games at Olympia were established.

The foundation of the races, according to other myths, is attributed to the demigod Heracles, who founded the road races as well as the chariot races. Herakles is the one who brought the wild olive tree from the country of the Hyperboreans, planted it in the Sanctuary, and defined the boundaries of the sacred Alteos.
Also according to other myths, the Ideal Heracles with his four brothers, the Fingers or Kurites, arrives in Olympia from Crete, defines the length of the stadium, organizes road races with his brothers and crowns the winner with wild olives. Among the names of the founders of the games are also mentioned Nileas, Pelias and also Pisos, named hero of Pisatida. Finally, Strabo considers that the games were organized by Oxyllos, king of the Heraklides after their descent to Ilia (after 1200 BC). They were later reorganized by Iphitus, who concluded an agreement (the sacred truce) with the king and legislator of Sparta, Lycurgus, and the king of Pisa, Cleisthenes. Then Olympia became a pan-Hellenic center. The ancient written sources refer to 776 BC as the starting year of the games. The list of Olympians also begins from this year (which, of course, was completed much later).
The Pisates organized the games from 688 to 572 BC. In 570 BC the Ilians occupied Pisa and put under their control the organization of the games. In the 5th c. e.g. the races reached the height of their glory. In the Hellenistic era, however, they lost their original character and turned into professional sporting events, something that was consolidated in the Roman era.
The great historical events that took place over the centuries in the Greek area had their impact on the sporting ideals of the Olympic games, resulting in a gradual decline of moral values, which worsened noticeably from 146 AD, when the main Greece was submitted to the Roman state and the Ilians lost their independence. The 2nd c. AD, when the right of Roman citizenship was granted to all the inhabitants of the Roman empire, an internationalization of the games was also observed. Finally, they were abolished by Theodosius I in 393 AD. (293rd Olympiad), when by his decree the operation of all pagan Sanctuaries was forbidden.
With the Olympic games, the national, racial and spiritual unity of the Greeks was forged. The games combined the deep religious spirit with the heroic past of the Greeks, the maximum degree of cultivation of body, mind and soul with universal philosophical values and the promotion of the individual and the cities with the highest ideal of freedom. Their supranational character also survives in the modern Olympic Games, which, after a 15-century hiatus, were organized in Athens in 1896, and have since been held every four years.