What Were the Olympic Games in Ancient Greece?

The Olympic Games were a series of athletic competitions held every four years in Ancient Greece, starting in 776 BCE and continuing for over a thousand years until they were banned by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I in 393 CE. The games were held in Olympia, a sanctuary site located in the western part of the Peloponnese peninsula.

The Origins of the Olympic Games

The origins of the Olympic Games are shrouded in myth and legend. According to one popular myth, the games were founded by Heracles (Hercules), son of Zeus, who was said to have created them as a tribute to his father. Another myth attributes their founding to Pelops, a legendary king who won a chariot race against the local ruler to win his daughter’s hand in marriage.

The Early Olympic Games

The early Olympic Games were quite different from the modern version we know today. For starters, they only consisted of one event: a foot race called the stadion. This was a sprinting race that covered just over 200 meters, or about one stade (a unit of measurement used by Ancient Greeks).

Over time, more events were added to the Olympic Games. These included longer foot races (such as the diaulos and dolichos), combat sports (such as boxing and wrestling), and various other athletic contests (such as jumping and throwing). Women were not allowed to compete in these games; instead, they had their own separate athletic competitions known as the Heraean Games.

The Importance of the Olympic Games

Despite their humble beginnings, the Olympic Games quickly became an important event in Ancient Greek culture. They brought together people from all across Greece and its colonies to compete and celebrate their shared heritage. The winners of these games were seen as heroes and often received great riches and fame for their accomplishments.

In addition to being an athletic competition, the Olympic Games were also a religious festival. They were held in honor of Zeus, king of the gods, and included various rituals and sacrifices to appease him. The games also provided an opportunity for politicians and leaders to come together and discuss important matters.

The End of the Olympic Games

The Olympic Games continued to be held every four years for centuries, even after the rise of the Roman Empire. However, they eventually fell out of favor with many people due to their association with pagan rituals and beliefs.

In 393 CE, the Roman Emperor Theodosius I banned all pagan festivals and celebrations, including the Olympic Games. The games were not held again until 1896, when they were revived in Athens as an international athletic competition.


The Olympic Games have a long and fascinating history that stretches back over two thousand years. They began as a simple foot race but quickly grew into an important cultural event that brought people together from all across Ancient Greece. Despite their eventual decline and banning by the Romans, they continue to be celebrated today as a symbol of international cooperation and athletic achievement.