Ancient Olympic Games


In ancient history, the Olympic Games were a series of competitions between different cities in Greece.  There were athletic games as well as combat and chariot racing.  According to legend, the Olympic Games were created by Zeus and his son, Heracles, both of whom were Greek gods.  Heracles declared the Olympic Games would be held every four years and built a stadium to honor his father. At the earliest recorded Olympics in 776 B.C., racing was the only event.  However, later Olympic Games held gradually longer races such as the marathon.  In the year 393 A.D., Roman emperor Theodosius banned the Olympic Games. He was a Christian who believed that the games were a form of worshipping of a false religion.  For almost 1500 years, the Olympics ceased to exist as an event.

In the late 19th century, two things sparked the restoration of the Olympic Games.  Writers and artists at the time were rebelling against scientific progress and politics of the 1800s.  Many of them believed that humanity and nature were under threat as society became increasingly dominated by rules and rational scientific thought.  To fight against these changes, these artists used their words and paintings to celebrate the beauty of nature and human emotion.  Many of them were inspired by the similar themes found in ancient Greek art, such as operas and poetry.   They identified heavily with the spirit of the ancient Games, which celebrated the human spirit through struggle and competition.

The independence of Greece in the 1830s also helped to bring back the Olympics.  One proud Greek named Panagiotis Soutsos wrote an acclaimed poem calling for the return of the event.   Soutsos’ poem was very popular and it was printed in the nation’s newspapers.  A wealthy Greek investor named Evangelos Zappas was so moved by Soutsos’ poetry that he sponsored a small-scale revival of the Olympic Games called the “Zappas Olympics” starting in 1859.  Although these games were successful, they had only Greek athletes and participants.  The first truly international athletic event that resembles today’s Olympic Games was held in 1870.