The Beginning of the Olympics

The Olympic games are said to have begun in 776 BC. There is evidence the games may have started earlier. They began as a simple foot race in a rural sanctuary of Zeus in a relatively obscure part of Greece. They grew during a span of 1,200 years becoming the most prestigious athletic/religious festival in the Greek-speaking world. Victorious competitors were thought to be favorites of Zeus, chief god of the Greek pantheon. 

The games grew to the point they were held at the massive Temple of Zeus, built between 471 and 457 BC. The current concept of the Olympic torch has an ancient origin. The “ash altar” to Zeus was a focal feature of the sanctuary. The games began by the athletes processing into the sanctuary where they sacrificed 100 bulls on the altar to Zeus.

Crowds grew so dramatically large embankments of earth were piled along the sides of fields of competition on which spectators stood. The word for this, “stadion,” meaning “the standing place,” gave us our word for stadium.

The Greek word “athlon,” meaning “one who competes for a prize,” gives us our word athlete.

At different games prizes varied from a shield, to an amphora filled with olive oil, or crowns made of olive or laurel branches At a time benefits consisted of cash, exemption from taxes, and a free meal a day in the town hall for the rest of their life.

Little known is one of the most influential characters in the development of athletics competition is a rather well known Bible character, Herod the Great (73 BC – 4 BC). Though the practice he proposed was not originally a part of the Olympic games, it later influenced them.

To attract world class athletes he came up with a creative way to reward more competitors. Until his idea was adopted, each contest simply had a winner. His idea was to give a gold medal to the winner, a silver medal to the person who finished second, and a bronze medal to the person finishing third. It worked and not only gained popularity for his games, but the concept became universal. 

The formal religious aspects of the games have been eroded from the games and seemingly replaced by political intrigue. 

Parallels have been made by Christian athletes between the ancient training regimen and personal faith. Some are, dealing with the issues of life can be agony, but the prize makes it worth the effort. There was one training regime for all athletes, so all persons of faith have one standard of right or wrong. The ultimate prize for a victorious well lived life is a crown or righteousness.