Ancient Olympics Facts for Kids

There were no team sports at the ancient Olympics.

While the games did lay the foundations for the Olympics we have today; there are quite a few differences. The games initially started as short foot races, around 200 meters, to keep men fit for war. The tracks were straight lines and were wide enough to fit around 20 men to run side by side.

Greek men ran these races naked! Thankfully, all of today’s events require competitors to be clothed. As the Olympics gained popularity, more events were added; these ranged from horse and chariot races to boxing and wrestling. All these events became extremely popular, but none required any teamwork.

There were no medals at the Olympics.

The award ceremony is a massive part of the Olympics today, but there weren’t any medals in ancient times. Unlike today, there would be one singular winner in each event, and there were no Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals.

Like there are today, there were judges at the games who would decide upon the winner. Winners were awarded a wreath of olives for winning their event. This wreath could even be worn as a crown to signal the competitor’s victory.

The leaves and olives used in the wreath were taken from a sacred tree by the temple of Zeus at Olympia. So, naturally, this made the prize all the more important and precious to the Greeks.

Women could not compete at the Olympics.

Sadly, women were not allowed to compete at the Olympics. Married women were not even permitted to attend the Olympics as visitors. If women were caught trying to sneak into the games, they would be thrown off Mount Olympus as punishment.

Women had an equivalent festival called Heraean Games, which also took place in Olympia. The festival was held in honor of Zeus’ wife, Hera. Women could participate in the foot race, but little is known about the Heraean games as they did not acquire the same success as the Olympics.

The games became hugely popular. 

Over time, the games became extremely popular and a crucial part of Ancient Greek culture. At the height of their popularity, 40,000 people would attend the games that spanned over five days. The games were so important that a temporary peace was established between all Greek city-states. This extraordinary truce was found a month before the games were due in August.

This truce would stop all wars and battles between city-states. This time would allow men to train for their events and allow people to travel between cities without fear of being attacked. Of course, little would stop the Ancient Greeks from fighting, but their love of the Olympics would unite everyone for a short period every four years.

The games were banned in 393 AD.

In 393 AD Emperor Theodosius banned the Olympic Games. This was because the Emperor called for all ‘pagan’ festivals to be banned in favor of the introduction of Christianity. While the Olympics had become a huge event, the sole reason for the events was to honor Zeus. With Christianity now taking precedent, the Emperor called for the event to be banned after nearly 12 continuous centuries of celebration.

It would take another 1,500 years to celebrate the modern Olympic Games. However, in 1896 Baron Pierre de Coubertin revived the Olympics as he admired the focus on physical fitness. Each year to commemorate the origin of the games, a torch is lit in Olympia and carried to the city that will host the games that year.

The statue of Zeus at Olympia was one of the seven ancient wonders.

The temple of Zeus that stood in Olympia, where the events would take place, was home to one of the world’s seven ancient wonders. A statue of Zeus stood 41 feet tall and was made by a sculptor named Phidias around 435 BC. The sculpture depicted Zeus sitting on a vast throne surrounded by different precious stones. This statue signified everything the games stood for.

The statue was lost in the 5th Century AD when it was destroyed. On the third day of the Olympics, in Zeus’ temple, 100 oxen would be burned and sacrificed to the god. This was a sign of respect and honor to Zeus and was an essential part of the festival.

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