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More than 40, people, athletes, philosophers, politicians, artists, poets, and other pilgrims travelled from all over the Greek world to Olympia to watch the Games. The protection of athletes and spectators during their hard journey was guaranteed by the holy truce when all hostilities and warfare ceased. Olympia, as a neutral and sacred place, was able to promote in a unique way, beyond the trivia of everyday life, the ideals of peace, freedom, equality and mutual respect. The thinkers of the Enlightenment looked to the ancient Greek spirit for inspiration and guidance. It was this civilization, as it was expressed through the Olympic Games, that Baron Pierre de Coubertin and those who before and after him contributed to the realization of this unique vision, fostered by educational pursuits, wanted to revive.
Olympic Games, brief History of the Olympics
The Sanctuary of Olympia existed long before the Geometric era 9th-8th B. The god Cronos was worshipped here, to be superceded by Zeus, when the latter defeated him in wrestling, as Greek myth has it. In Olympia, the Idaean Hercules had his brothers, the Idaean Daktyloi, compete in footrace after he had marked the place and length of the track. There are many others, who are claimed to be the founders of the Games, according to various myths — among them Peisos, Oinomaos, Pelops, Pelias, Neleus, Oxylos and others. The first historical data about this grand religious and athletic feast in Olympia date from the early 8th century B.
The numbering of the Olympiads began from B. Such was the position of the Games in the life of Greeks that, already in the Classical era, the Olympiads were often used for dating the events in the history of Greece. Over time, the Games in Olympia became the most important event for the whole of Greece, and Olympia was the Panhellenic athletic centre.
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If Delphi was the centre of the Earth, as Greeks believed, there is no doubt that Olympia was the heart of Greece. More events were added from B. Equally old, it seems, were the Heraea — athletic contests for young women. The prizes were useful presents initially, but from B. At first, the Games lasted one day, but when more events were added, the duration was extended to five days — three days for the contests and the first and fifth day reserved for ceremonies and sacrifices.
Several factors and historical events contributed to the change in the character of the Games. Professionalism, a desire for material benefits and a considerable emancipation of the games from religious dominance and violations of the truce had already appeared by the end of the 5th century B. When Greece was incorporated into the Roman Empire 27 B.
By the time of the Classical Greek culture, in the fifth and fourth centuries BC, the games were restricted to male participants. Besides boosting the athletic spirit, the Olympics provided a commons means of counting time in ancient Greece. The historian Ephorus, who lived in the fourth century BC, is believed to have established the use of Olympiads to count years and put an end to the confusion among cities-states when trying to determine dates.
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This is perhaps one of the reasons why women were not allowed to enter or watch the Games. I must express my disappointment with the ongoing absurd claim that de Coubertin alone resuscitated the modern Olympics. Even IOC archives support what they achieved, but unless we Hellenes stand up, the truth will remain in those archives. Alexandros Soutsos was a famous Hellenic poet. In , the newspaper Helios published his poem, where he referred to the necessity for reviving the Olympic Games.
The newspaper was published in Nafplio, the first capital of the new born Hellenic state, in the Peloponnese. If our shadow could fly to your earth it would daringly shout to the Ministers of the Throne: Leave your petty politics and vain quarrels Recall the past splendour of Hellas. Tell me, where are your ancient centuries? Where are your Olympic Games? Your majestic celebrations and great theatres? Where are your sculptures and busts, where are your altars and temples?
Every city, every wood and every temple was filled before with rows of silent marble statues. Foreign nations decorated your altars with offerings, gold jars from Gygas. Creators, silver plates and precious stones from Croesus. When the glorious Olympic festival opened, large crowds gathered to watch the games where athletes and kings came to compete, Ieron and Gelon and Philip and others. Before forty thousand bedazzled Hellenes, Herodotus presented in his elegant history their recent triumphs.
Thucudides listened to the beautiful harmony of his prose and prepared to meet him in competition as a worthy rival. Influenced by the ideas of that poem, the great philanthropist Evangelos Zappas proposed the revival of the Olympic Games. Zappas was born in in a village at Epirus, Northern Hellas. In he emigrated to Bucharest, where he became one of the most important and wealthiest land-owners in the country.
Influenced by the poem by Alexandros Soutsos, in which he claimed the need for reviving the Olympic Games, Zappas decided to propagate the idea and to personally finance the effort. Zappas financed the erection of a building for exhibits, as well as the excavation and restoration of the ancient Panathenaic Stadium in Athens.
De Coubertin was to use this money to achieve what Zappas had begun. According to his will, his body was buried in Romania, and his skull at the new Olympic building located in Zappeion, Athens. As it was one of the first mass gatherings in the country, neither the people nor the police had any previous experience of keeping the necessary order for the event. The athletic competition had more a game-like than sportive character. As there were no athletes at that time, the Organising Committee accepted the participation of workers, porters, etc.
According to the press of the time, many anecdotes took place during the Games: a policeman who was there keeping the order, left his post and participated in the races.
Even a beggar, who pretended to be blind, participated in the races as well! While the press criticised the Games, the ideal of the athletic competition was generally accepted, and this was the beginning of the whole process of the Olympic Games. At that time the organization was much better:.
There were nine games: three classic ancient games, four ancient, but not classic games, and two modern. Prizes were both monetary and symbolical. There was a band playing an Olympic Hymn, specially composed for the occasion. The judges were professors of the University, and a herald announced the winners. The King awarded prizes to winners to the sound of the hymn.
More Games were to follow in years to come. Demetrios Vikelas was born in in Syros, and died in in Athens. He was a merchant in London, but since literature was his real love, he soon became a well-known writer.