The Olympic Festival in Antiquity

"There are enough irksome and troublesome
things in life; aren't things just as bad at
the Olympic festival? Aren't you scorched
there by the fierce heat? Aren't you crushed
in the crowd? Isn't it difficult to freshen
yourself up? Doesn't the rain soak you to
the skin? Aren't you bothered by the noise,
the din and other nuisances? But it seems to
me that you are well able to bear and
indeed gladly endure all these, when you
think of the gripping spectacles that you
will see."
Epictetus, AD 1st

The Olympic festival was the most important and ancient of all other Greek festivals. It was the greater religious festival among others, dedicated to Zeus, the supreme of all gods. The sanctuary of Olympia imposed its authority throughout the Greek world, whereas soon the Olympic games became the symbol of Panhellenic unity.

The site and the sanctuary of Olympia gradually developed through time. From a simple cult place, it evolved to an elaborated sanctuary adorned with temples, the greatest among them being the Temple of Zeus, secular buildings and statues. New games were added in the festival and new athletic facilities were built in order to facilitate the athletes who participated in the games.

The Olympic festival was held once every four years in the most hot days of the summer. During the five days of the festivals, a number of sacrifices were dedicated to the altars of the gods of Olympia, the most magnificent of all being the sacrifice of one hundred cattle in front of Zeus' altar. A series of athletic contests were held in the stadium, the hippodrome and other areas of the site in front of thousands of spectators from all cities of the known-Greek world. The victors were crowned with a wreath of wild olive and enjoyed special honors from their hometown.

During the Olympic festival, a number of athletic contests were held:

Those who participated in the contests followed common rules and conventions, established for the better organization of the games. First, all cities had to cease hostilities during the days of the games. Secondly, all Greeks were allowed to participate, except barbarians, women and slaves. Thirdly, a number of specific rules regulated the training procedures and the performance of the games.

Importance | Site Through Time | Olympiad | Games | Regulations | Victors

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