Ancient Olympic Games facts for kids

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The ancient Olympics were played in the honour of God Zeus. The men had to be fit as they often had to go to war. Women were not allowed to participate or see the competitions. The Ancient Olympic Games were a series of athletic competitions held between the city-states of Ancient Greece. They used to be called the Olympic Games (Greek: Ολυμπιακοί Αγώνες; Olympiakoi Agones) until the modern day Olympic Games started. The Ancient Olympic Games began in 776 BCE in Olympia, Greece. They ran until 393 CE and then the stadium got buried due to landslides and other natural disasters. Prizes at the games were olive wreaths, palm branches and woollen ribbons.

Discobolus in National Roman Museum Palazzo Massimo alle Terme
The "Discobolus" is a copy of a Greek statue c. 5th century BC. It represents an ancient Olympic discus thrower


Events at the Olympics
Olympiad Year Event first introduced
1st 776 BC Stade
14th 724 BC Diaulos
15th 720 BC Long distance race (Dolichos)
18th 708 BC Pentathlon, Wrestling
23rd 688 BC Boxing (pygmachia)
25th 680 BC Four horse chariot race (tethrippon)
33rd 648 BC Horse race (keles), Pankration
37th 632 BC Boys stade and wrestling
38th 628 BC Boys pentathlon
41st 616 BC Boys boxing
65th 520 BC Hoplite race (hoplitodromos)
70th 500 BC Mule-cart race (apene)
93rd 408 BC Two horse chariot race (synoris)
96th 396 BC Competition for heralds and trumpeters
99th 384 BC Tethrippon for horse over one year
128th 266 BC Chariot for horse over one year
131st 256 BC Race for horses older than one year
145th 200 BC Pankration for boys

Apparently starting with just a single foot race, the program gradually increased to twenty-three contests, although no more than twenty featured at any one Olympiad. Participation in most events was limited to male athletes except for women who were allowed to take part by entering horses in the equestrian events. Youth events are recorded as starting in 632 BC. Our knowledge of how the events were performed primarily derives from the paintings of athletes found on many vases, particularly those of the Archaic and Classical periods.


Ancient Olympic Starting Line
A section of the stone starting line at Olympia, which has a groove for each foot

The only event recorded at the first thirteen games was the stade, a straight-line sprint of just over 192 metres. The diaulos (lit. "double pipe"), or two-stade race, is recorded as being introduced at the 14th Olympiad in 724 BC. It is thought that competitors ran in lanes marked out with lime or gypsum for the length of a stade then turned around separate posts (kampteres), before returning to the start line. Xenophanes wrote that "Victory by speed of foot is honored above all."

A third foot race, the dolichos ("long race"), was introduced in the next Olympiad. Accounts of the race's distance differ, it seems to have been from twenty to twenty-four laps of the track, around 7.5 km to 9 km, although it may have been lengths rather than laps and thus half as far.

The last running event added to the Olympic program was the hoplitodromos, or "Hoplite race", introduced in 520 BC and traditionally run as the last race of the games. Competitors ran either a single or double diaulos (approximately 400 or 800 metres) in full military armour. The hoplitodromos was based on a war tactic of soldiers running in full armor to surprise the enemy.


Wrestling (pale) is recorded as being introduced at the 18th Olympiad. Three throws were necessary for a win. A throw was counted if the body, hip, back or shoulder (and possibly knee) touched the ground. If both competitors fell nothing was counted. Unlike its modern counterpart Greco-Roman wrestling, it is likely that tripping was allowed.

Boxing (pygmachia) was first listed in 688 BC, the boys event sixty years later. The laws of boxing were ascribed to the first Olympic champion Onomastus of Smyrna. It appears body-blows were either not permitted or not practised. The Spartans, who claimed to have invented boxing, quickly abandoned it and did not take part in boxing competitions. At first the boxers wore himantes (sing. himas), long leather strips which were wrapped around their hands.

The pankration was introduced in the 33rd Olympiad (648 BC). Boys' pankration became an Olympic event in 200 BC, in the 145th Olympiad. As well as techniques from boxing and wrestling, athletes used kicks, locks, and chokes on the ground. Although the only prohibitions were against biting and gouging, the pankration was regarded as less dangerous than boxing.

It was one of the most popular events.


The pentathlon was a competition made up of five events: running, long jump, discus throw, javelin throw and wrestling. The pentathlon is said to have first appeared at the 18th Olympiad in 708 BC. The competition was held on a single day, but it is not known how the victor was decided, or in what order the events occurred, except that it finished with the wrestling.


Horse racing and chariot racing were the most prestigious competitions in the games, due to only the wealthy being able to afford the maintenance and transportation of horses. These races consisted of different events: the four-horse chariot race, the two-horse chariot race, and the horse with rider race, the rider being hand picked by the owner. The four-horse chariot race was the first equestrian event to feature in the Olympics, being introduced in 680 BC. It consisted of two horses that were harnessed under a Yoke in the middle, and two outer horses that were attached with a rope. The two-horse chariot was introduced in 408 BC. The horse with rider competition on the other hand, was introduced in 648 BC. In this race, Greeks didn't use saddles or stirrups, so they required good grip and balance.

In AD 67, the Roman Emperor Nero competed in the chariot race at Olympia. He was thrown from his chariot and was thus unable to finish the race. Nevertheless, he was declared the winner on the basis that he would have won if he had finished the race.

Some Famous athletes

Bases of Zanes
The Bases of Zanes were paid for by fines taken from people who cheated at the Games

Here are athletes that competed at the Games:

  • from Athens:
    • Aurelios Zopyros (Junior boxing)
  • from Sparta:
    • Acanthus of Sparta (Running: diaulos)
    • Chionis of Sparta (Running: stadium, diaulos. Long and Triple Jump)
    • Cynisca of Sparta (first woman to be listed as an Olympic victor)
  • from Rhodes:
    • Diagoras of Rhodes (Boxing 79th Olympiad, 464 BCE) and his sons Akusilaos and Damagetos (Boxing and Pankration)
    • Leonidas of Rhodes (Running: stadium, diaulos and hoplitodromos)
  • from Croton:
    • Astylos of Croton (Running: stadium, diaulos and hoplitodromos)
    • Milo of Croton (wrestling)
    • Timasitheos of Croton (wrestling)
  • from other cities:
    • Koroibos of Elis (Stadion)
    • Orsippus of Megara (Runner: diaulos)
    • Theagenes of Thasos (Pankration)
  • non-Greek:
    • Tiberius (steerer of a four-horse chariot)
    • Nero (steerer of a ten-horse chariot)
    • Varastades, Prince and future King of Armenia, (last known Ancient Olympic victor (boxing) during the 291st Olympic Games in the fourth century.

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Ancient Olympic Games Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.