What was the origin of the Olympic Games?

The original Olympic Games were an ancient Greek festival held at the end of every fourth year at Olympia, which was located in Southern Greece. The Ancient Olympics had a semi-religious character, and they were open to members of all branches in the Greek race. During the games, no fighting was allowed anywhere in Greece.

The winner of the Olympics would receive only a wreath of wild olive, but the prize or the value for the wreath was valued above anything else that a Greek person could obtain. Winning a game in the Olympics symbolizes permanent glory on the country, with the family of the winner being considered as victors as well. The first Olympic Games recorded were held in 776 BC, and this year signified that the Greek dates were restructured, as each year where the games take place is called an Olympiad. Because the Olympics must be held every four years, the second recorded games were in 772 BC was the second Olympiad, 768 BC is when the third Olympiad was arranged, and so on.

Ancient Greek Olympics

Origins According to Myth

The exact origins of the Olympics are currently unknown, but many believed that the Ancient Greeks were inspired by a story in Greek mythology that involves Heracles building the Olympic Stadium after finishing the twelve labors. It was Heracles who coined the terms “Olympics” and “stadion,” which is a unit of measurement wherein one stadion equal to 200 steps.

The Decline of the Olympics

In the years following the third Olympics, there were three other events that were held in Ancient Greece. These events were the Pythian Games, the Nemean Games, and the Isthmian Games. These games were combined to form the Panhellenic Games, which reached its peak during the 5th century BC when there are hundreds of participants in the games.

When the Romans took over control in Greece, the Olympics eventually declined, as many more people didn’t want to get involved in a Greek event out of fear. It is not clear when the Ancient Olympics ended, but it was speculated that it happened in 393 AD, when Theodosius I, the then-emperor of the Romans, declared that all practices and events created by Greeks would be banned and erased from existence. However, there are several historians that suggested that the Olympics actually ended in 426 AD, when Theodosius II and his men destroyed all the temples in Greece.

Rise of Modern Olympics

The interest for the term “Olympics” and its games started to form during the 17th century, and one of the first that adopted the Olympic name was the Cotswold Olimpick Games held in Chipping Camden, England. While the Cotswold Games were held annually, the event did feature various sports.

The second reported Olympic-like event was the “L’Olympiade de la Republique,” a festival also held annually from 1796 to 1798 in France after the French Revolution. The event revived the original games that were included in the Ancient Olympics.

There were many other Olympic games that were organized in different parts of the world, but the revival of the original Olympics did not come into the spotlight until a poet named Panagiotis Soutsos proposed that the Olympics should return to honor Greek history after the Greeks won the War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire in 1821.

After being inspired by Soutsos, a rich philanthropist by the name of Evangelos Zappas wrote a letter in 1856 addressed to King Otto of Greece. In the letter, Zappas stated that he is willing to fund the revival of the Olympic Games.

Thanks to Zappas’ funding, the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1859 at a city square in Athens, Greece. To signify peace between two former warring states, participants of the games were people from Greece and the Ottoman Empire. In order to continue organizing the Olympics, Zappas also funded the construction and restoration of the Panathenaic Stadium, which was the site for the Ancient Olympics.

International Success

Because of the rising popularity of the Olympics not only in Greece but also in other countries, a historian named Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that helps athletes from other countries to participate in the games. Another goal of the IOC is to spread awareness of the glory and history of the Olympics around the world.

In the first Olympic Congress in June 1894, Coubertin suggested that other countries should also be allowed to participate in the Olympics, although this would mean that the IOC should have control over the games.

Because of Coubertin’s perseverance to turn the Olympics into a global event, the first international Olympics were held successfully in 1896, with 14 countries and 241 athletes competing for medals and glory. The 1896 Olympics took place in the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, Greece.

Except in 1916, the Olympics have been celebrated every fourth year since, but the event was not only held in Athens, as the IOC wanted other countries to host the games. One of the most iconic Olympic Games is said to be the 2012 London Olympics in England, which is also the home for the very first modern Olympics (Cotswold Games) after the ancient games were abolished during the reign of the Roman Empire. Interestingly, the English government mentioned the Cotswold Games as a good justifier as to why they need to host the Olympics in 2012 when other countries were also trying to host the said event. After the 2012 London Olympics, the games would be held in Brazil (2018) and Japan (2021).

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