Ancient Greek Games

The Ancient Greek Games were the very beginning of the Olympic Games as we know them today. They took place every four years from 776BC to at least 393AD and they attracted athletes and spectators from all over the Greek empire.

Men Only

The Games were for men only. Women could not take part and only unmarried women could spectate.

Any free Greek man could compete, so farmhands competed alongside soldiers and royalty. The athletes took part in the events in the nude.

Did you know… All wars between cities would cease at the time of the Games to allow men from all over the empire to travel there in safety.

The Events

In the beginning, the Ancient Games were a one-day event and the only sport was running. They eventually became a five-day event and more sports were added.

They included long jump, discus throwing, javelin throwing, wrestling, boxing, pankration, horse racing, and chariot racing.

Did you know… Music, public speaking, and theatre were also events in the Ancient Games.

The Feast

The Ancient Games were held to honour Zeus, the king of Greek gods. As part of the festival, many cows were offered as a sacrifice.

This led to a huge feast shared by all the athletes and spectators.

Did you know… A huge statue of Zeus was built at Olympia where the Games were held. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Running Races

Unlike modern-day races around a track, competitors raced up and down the length of the arena.

A post in the ground was used to mark the turning point. Races ranged from one length of the “stadion” up to 24 lengths.

Did you know… A false start in a running race could result in severe physical punishment.

The Long Jump

Competitors in the long jump carried a stone or lead weight in each hand. They swung the weights on a short run-up to give them some extra momentum in the take-off.

The weights were thrown behind them to give them an extra boost before they landed on a bed of crumbled earth that had been raked smooth.

Did you know… Flute music was played as the athletes took their run-up in the long jump.

Combat Rules

In wrestling, there was no winner until one of the athletes submitted. In boxing, there was no winner until one of the athletes collapsed.

Pankration was a mix of boxing and wrestling. There were only two rules: no biting, and no eye gouging.

Did you know… There were no weight categories in boxing. This meant huge men might be fighting much smaller men.

Winners Wreath

Winners in the Games were not presented with medals. The prize was a wreath made from the sacred olive trees that grew at Olympia.

Athletes competed for the honour of winning, but they would often be rewarded with valuable prizes when they returned to their home towns.

Did you know… Winning athletes from Athens were awarded free meals for life.

Heraean Games

Women competed in a separate Games in honour of Hera, the wife of Zeus. The only events were running races and only unmarried women could take part.

All women could spectate, and a feast of meat was shared after a cow was sacrificed to Hera.

Did you know… Women in Ancient Greece wore long tunics, but athletes at the Heraean Games wore the shorter tunics normally worn by men.

Facts about Ancient Greek Games

  • Only men could take part in the Games and they competed in the nude
  • Events included running, jumping, discus throwing, wrestling, boxing, pankration, horse racing, and chariot racing
  • Spectators enjoyed a huge feast of meat
  • Running races were measured in lengths of the stadium
  • Athletes held weights in the long jump
  • There were very few rules in wrestling, boxing, and pankration
  • Winners were presented with victory wreaths made from olive trees
  • Women competed in the Heraean Games

Questions and Answers

True or false: Men and women took part in the Ancient Greek Games.

False. Only men could compete.

What did the spectators feast on at the Games?

Meat from cows sacrificed to Zeus.

What did competitors carry in their hands in the long jump event?

Stones or lead weights.

True or false: Winners at the Games were awarded with medals.

False. Winners received a wreath made from olive trees.

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