Events of an Olympiad

"You come to the Olympic festival itself and to the finest event in Olympia, for right here is the men's pankration. Arrichion, who has died seeking victory, is taking the crown for it, and this Olympic judge is crowning him...They shout and jump out of their seats and wave their hands and garments. Some spring into the air, others in ecstasy wrestle the man nearby..." Lucian, Anacharsis, ca. AD 170

>From the fifth century and on, the Olympic festival lasted five days, although fluctuations might have occured. Before that time, the duration of an Olympiad varied from one day (held until the 24th Olympiad, 684 BC) to three days (added in the 37th Olympiad, 632 BC).

Customarily, those who wished to participate officially in the Games had to be trained in their hometown at least for ten months prior to the games. According to the regulations of the Games, the athletes had to arrive at Elis at least one month before the festival took place in order to continue training and to fulfil some formalities.

Before the day of the Games, the spondophoroi, citizens of Elis wearing crowns of olive branches and holding the herald's wand in their hands, traveled to all Greek cities in order to claim the truce (ekecheiria) and the suspension of all hostilities for 3 months.

The following is a description of a typical Olympiad of the 4th century BC:

A day before the games
Two days prior to the official opening of the games, a procession of athletes and umpires set out from Elis. Following the Sacred Way which led to Olympia, they would stop at the spring Piera for a ceremonial sacrifice and spend the night at Letrinoi. The following morning the procession was welcomed by the noisy and enthusiastic crowd which had gathered at the sanctuary of Olympia.

Day One
This is the day of the official opening of the festival. The ceremony started with the athlete's registration and the official oath of the competitors and judges in the Bouleuterion (Council-house). In front of the statue of ZeusHorkios (Zeus of the Oaths), the athletes had to swear that they had been trained for the last ten months and would obey the rules during the Games. The judges then had to swear to judge fair.

Next, the registration of equestrian pairs took place. A white board, containing the names of the competitors, was hung outside the Bouleuterion to inform the visitors about the schedule of the games.

The first competition was between the trumpeters and the heralds. The winners had the honor to announce the names of the victors and sound the trumpet for all events at Olympia.

Then the public and private sacrifices to their patron gods were held by the missions of the various cities. Sacrifices took place in front of all altars: Poseidon Hippios', Hera Hippia's, Ares Hippios', Athena Hippia's, the Diouskourois', Tyche's, Taraxippos' and others.

In the afternoon, the noisy crowd scattered around the site, visiting all temples and altars, discussing, meeting old friends, telling stories about past victors of the Games, or hearing authors and poets reciting their works. It was a time filled with joy and pleasure.

Day Two
This was the day of the first competition.
First was the stadion race. The herald called the participating boys, and the judges took their position. The judge handed out the urn and the runners chose their order by picking lots with letters on them showing their order. The name of the victor winning at the end was announced by the herald and the victor was awarded with the palm branch.

Next, the boys wrestling game started. The wrestlers fought in pairs, and the winners of the matches competed for the final. Then followed the boxing and the pankration matches. The games lasted until the late afternoon. Then, celebrations of the victors lasted until late in the night.

Day Three
This is the day of the equestrian events and the pentathlon games. The equestrian events were among the most popular games of the Olympic festival and they were scheduled according to the following order:

In the early afternoon, the pentathlon game, a combination of five different events, jumping, running, javelin (the light events),discus and wrestling (the heavy events), was held at the stadium. Athletes competed in the five games, and the two last victors competed in wrestling. The winner was the final victor of the pentathlon.

The day closed with ceremonies held in honour of Pelops, the mythical founder of the Games, in front of the Pelopion.

Day Four
The day started with the big ceremony, the hecatombe, in honor of Zeus: 100 oxen, offered by the Eleans, were sacrificed in front of Zeus' altar. The procession, set out from the Prytaneion, consisted of city representatives, priests, athletes and all other groups.

Then, the games followed:

Day Five
This is the day of the official closing of the Olympic festival. A number of sacrifices to the deities of Olympia took place in front of its various altars. All winners were gathered at the temple of Zeus to be awarded by the oldest of the Hellanodikai (the judges). Their names and their city of origin were announced by the herald in front of all people. At the Prytaneion [the headquarters of the officials of the sanctuary] great feasts were given by the Eleans in honor of the athletes. Following the feasts, the victors would return to their homeland to receive special honors.

Date and duration | Introduction of Games |