Olympic Games

The most ancient and most resplendent games of antiquity and of grant religious celebrations were the Olympic Games, which were held in honor of Zeus in the sacred site of Olympia, on the first full moon after the summer solstice (usually July). The games took place every four years, their beginning dated to 776 B.C., and their significance was such that they constituted the official method for calculating time. The first games included only the stadion but, gradually, other sports were added, while in 396 B.C. they were coupled with trumpeters and heralds competitions.

The prestige of the Olympic games was unique, the victory at Olympia was the greatest achievement in the life of an athlete, and Olympic champions were considered to be blessed by the gods. The prize was a wreath from the sacred olive tree, the kotinos. The victory brought panhellenic fame and eternal glory to the athletes and was closely related to their native cities, which accorded them a triumphant welcome and rewarding them with a series of privileges bestowed on them for the duration of their lives.

The Olympic Games constituted above all a religious feast, with pilgrims pouring in from all over the Greek world and was instrumental in shaping a common cultural and ethnic identity among all the Greek cities. In Roman times, the right of participation was given to all citizens of the Roman state, so that the games became universal, rather than only panhellenic.