Greece - Olympia

by Kimp 9. April 2018 06:22

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Greek Gods

In my opinion, as long as intelligent humans have wandered the Earth, many have believed in some power that is greater than the whole lot of humans. One day a lightning bolt strikes a tree, starts a fire and burns their hunting grounds to a crisp. I must have done something that upset a higher power, and now they are retaliating. One day an Earthquake levels our stone abode to the ground, along with the trees around it. Same feeling. Crop yields for several years are great, then a drought wipes us out, same feeling. Lunar or solar eclipse, comet passing by, meteorite strike, and something is sending us a sign.

So we ask a Greek Elder, why the earth shook so violently. “Oh, it had to be greedy Theo that caused it. He plowed up 260 Hectares (1 square mile, 2.6 square km) of multi colored peacock anemone (a beautiful Greek wildflower), just to plant barley, so he could make and sell more beer. He upset the Goddess Gaea (goddess of the earth), so she brought the wrath down on everybody. Damn it, I told him not to mess with mother nature.”.

Greek families and Gods seem to fit the epitome of dysfunction. People lying to and tricking Gods. Gods committing all kinds of atrocities against each other and mankind. Entertaining characters when looking in from the outside. It seems that their ancient immortal beliefs may have been modeled after that their own family dynamics.

Ancient Greeks believed there were separate Gods that had very separate and distinct powers. Twelve in all. And that they all lived on Mount Olympus (the highest mountain in Greece). Olympus has multiple peaks each home to one of the Gods, with the summit being the place they would congregate to discuss political issues. Olympus shares a shoreline with the Aegean Sea where Poseidon (the Sea God), had a second home, deep in the sea. The only other God to have a second home away from Olympus was Hades, the God of the underworld (everything under the earth). I’ll bet that was the party house where they would all hang out for a good time. The other gods traveled for business on occasion, but Olympus was their only home.

Many of the Olympian Gods were part of the same clan having received their powers, after defeating the Titans. Titans were the gods who were worshiped by the people who were pagans, before the pagans who worshiped the Olympian Gods. The prior array of gods, whom held uncontested rule of the universe. Cronos was the leader of the Titan’s after gaining that title by castrating his father Uranus with a sickle. Cronos in turn, sired several of the Olympian God’s, and they defeated him to rise to power. Zeus (God of Sky and thunder), was the big dog on the bottom of the totem pole (the bottom of totem poles is what most people look at, so the chief carver does his work there). Zeus was considered the king of the gods, and Hera was the queen. Hera  represented the family as a whole. Zeus and Hera were siblings, but Zeus married and sired children with Hera. Zeus also a had a bit of a wandering eye, partaking in several extra marital affairs. One of which, produced his son Apollo. Apollo was the straight “A” student who became the god of knowledge, art, and the sciences.

In those days, climbing Mt Olympus would not even be considered. By today’s standard’s, it is a bit difficult. For one it’s all rock, and loose rock at that. Someone above is bound to knock a rock loose that could come your way. It rates at Class III on the YDS free climb system. Class III means that the climer will definitely need both feet and hands, should carry a rope just in case it might be needed, and while a fall might be survivable, it most likely will not be survivable. Class III also means it is about a full day to climb, so one is probably staying overnight on the mountain, and the decent is likely harder than the climb. Actually, it should probably be a class XII, meaning that you should get permission from all 12 gods before trespassing.

Some of the names of the twelve gods have changed over the years, probably due to misinterpretations from the listener. Kind of like when the CCR (Creedence Clearwater Revival) song, “Don’t go around tonight, Well, it’s bound to take your life. I see a bad moon a rising.”, gets repeated by someone just listing, then heartily signing later, “Don’t go around tonight, Well, it’s bound to take your life. I see a bathroom on the right.”, With me yelling, “Hell-llll Yeah!!! Sing it Marvin. That sounds just like CCR.”.

Olympia History

Recorded history does not state why Olympia was selected as a religious site, for worship of the Olympian Gods. But there have been many earthquakes there over the years (some destroying parts of the religious site), so that would be my guess. Build a nice place to worship the gods and they should be happy about that, and stop shaking the earth. Especially when the priest is slaughtering a prized lamb in honor of them, and offering them the best cut of meat (the best cut of meat was given to the gods, but the rest was ravished by the congregation).

The cow was/is a sacred animal in many religions, because they were very valuable to ancient and current humans, so they must have been put here to be honored and cherished. Cows are docile, only need field grass and water to live, their dung burns well, they are great haulers, great plow animals, and their milk is vital nourishment to the young. Cows must have been created to be the perfect supplement to humans. Greeks must not have gotten that memo, cause they had no problem slaughtering cows for sacrifice. One of the highlights of the Olympic festival was on the third day, then the priests slaughtered hundreds of cows and free cooked cow flesh was given to everyone. Cow’s taste great, so they must have been created for our consumption.

Artifacts were found in Olympia, signifying at it had been a religious site, that pre-dated the building of the stone temples there. There may have been wooden or earlier temples that were removed for the newer temples. The creation of the Olympic games occurred in 776 B.C., the middle of the 400 years between it becoming a religious site and the erection of the first temples that survived to date, which was about 100 years after the first Olympic festival was organized. They know it was 776, because someone had kept a list of all of the Olympian winner’s. Much later, some brilliant ancient mathematician, counted the number of winners on that list, multiplied by 4, then subtracted that from the current year and came up with 776 B.C. as the first one. 

In my mind, the creation of the games might have gone something like this. Chiefs from Tribe X, Tribe Y, and Tribe Z were all attending the Olympic religious pilgrimage event. Just after the massive cow flesh eating feast, the king of Tribe X introduces his best runner to the kings of Tribe Y and Z, and says, “This is Achille’s, our best runner. He can outrun a tiger!”. Chief Y says, “Then he can’t outrun my man Cleo. Cleo can outrun the gazelle that is being chased by the tiger!”. Chief Z chimes in with, “Yea, well, I’ll bet neither of them can outrun my man Dionte. He can outrun anything and anybody, anywhere and anytime !!!” The Chief magistrate listening in, says, “For a small fee, I know just how we can settle this dispute.”.

The first recorded race, was a single foot race that was won by a cook, named Koroibos.

One belief, is that chariot races were created in memory of a great Greek mythical figure named Pelops, king of Greece’s Pisa, which also controlled Olympia for a time. Pelops was a kind of dark figure that some Greek cults worshiped. The myth is that his father wanted to see if the Gods could tell the difference between Animal flesh and Human flesh, so he sacrificed his young son, put the flesh into a stew, and feed it to the Olympian Gods. But the first God to taste it, figured it out. This actually upset the other Olympian Gods, who reassembled the son, replacing the missing piece of his body with Ivory. Poseidon (God of the Sea), feeling bad about it, took him to Olympus and taught him to drive a divine chariot.

In manhood Pelops fell in love with Hippodamia, whose father was Oenomaus. But a prophet had told Oenomaus, that he would be killed by his future son-in-law. Eighteen dudes had already courted Hippodamia, but in order to gain her father’s acceptance for marriage, they had to beat him in a chariot race, with death being the penalty for losing that race.  Oenomaus had a palace with the heads of the eighteen dudes who had failed to win, affixed to the tops of its columns. And there was only one column, without a head on it. Seeing that last column, Pelops visited Poseidon to ask for help. Poseidon created two wild and winged horses to pull the divine chariot. On the way to the epic chariot race, Pelops driver dies. Pelops is distraught, and makes a temple out of earth, sacrifices the driver, and mixes the ashes with the temple mound (this becomes significant in their religion, as the alter of the temple of Pelops, is made of successive layers of earth, mixed with the ashes of the sacrifices that occurred there. And it just keeps growing over time, with the priests cutting steps in it, to get to the top of the alter.). The epic mother of all chariot races, between Pelops and Oenomaus ensues, with lots of drama during the race. Pelops squeaks out the win. Pelops, then takes on the role of organizing chariot races, for the god’s pleasure, as thanksgiving for-ever after. These chariot races became part of the festivities .

It was once thought that the ancient athletes were amateurs who had other professions in life. Most scholars these days seem to think they have evidence that they were professionals. Makes sense to me. A king is going to do whatever is necessary to help one of his athlete’s, win the competition over the other’s kings athlete’s. A king’s athletes are representing his kingdom as a whole, so of course he has a vested interest in his team winning.

Olympia Site in General

Over the course of 1500 years, the site was controlled by several different kingdom’s who had taken control of that area, but they all continued to host the Olympic Festival and Games on this site.

As time moved on, more and more activities were added to the site, requiring the addition of new buildings. The religious area was separated from the non-religious areas by a partial wall and structures that acted as a wall or at least significantly obstructed the view into and out of the religious area.

There were 4 major building periods:

The first period (started around 600 B.C.) was mostly for religious purposes and one building was used as a meeting place for political councils. A temple dedicated to the Goddess Hera (goddess of family) was built. Each city state that participated in the religious ceremonies had a separate small treasury structure that they built to house their religious artifacts, dedicated to their own heritage (similar to the relics related to Medieval Catholic Saints). In 560 B.C., the land was leveled, and a simple track was created . Over the next 60 years, several new events were added to the games.

The second (started in 500 B.C.) when slopping sides were created for spectators to better see the track. A workshop, for the top sculptor of the day (Pheidas), was created.  Pheidas created all of the massive Greek God Temple statues in all of Greece. Here, he created the elaborate statue of Zeus (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world). The grand Temple for Zeus (king of the gods), a small temple dedicated to the mother of Gods, who at that time, was probably Demeter (the goddess of earth fertility). A temple dedicated to Peolps was constructed. Pelops had a huge cult following, and he was the figure that was celebrated at night when the libations came out. A very popular night time festivity. The Emperor Philip (father of Hadrian) had won a battle, that united Greece, and he commissioned a memorial dedicated to his family, on the Olympia site. Stoa’s were built in the religious area for general religious meetings to take place. A temple dedicated to house the bones of a local hero was erected. These were in many Greek towns and were places where cult’s hung out to worship the local hero figure. The river Kladeos (named after the river God) was diverted to prevent flooding in Olympia (this engineering feature failed over time, as all of Olympia was covered in 12 feet (4m) of sediment, due to flooding, before it was located in 1875 by the German Archeological Society. Other additions were lodging for the important visitors, more government buildings related to the Olympic games (a kind of Olympic Committee), and a general meeting place for non-religious meetings to take place.

The third (started in 300 B.C.)

The Gymnasium, Greek baths, and Wresting structures were built. The Priests quarters were expanded, and a vaulted ceiling (tunnel), was built over the entrance was to the stadium.

The fourth (started in 50 A.D.)

An Emperor’s villa was built for Nero’s visit in 67A.D, Roman baths and more temporary quarters were constructed.

Sacred Truce

The city states in Greece were often at war with each other. When the date of the Olympic Games was determined, messengers would be sent to each City State, declaring a truce for the purpose of competing in and spectating the games.

Despite this truce, city states still sent soldiers to the games to protect their best military assets, just in case. In 324 B.C. the city state where Olympia was located, attacked the games during the last Pentathlon event, in which two opponents were very close in score. Soldier Archers at the games, climbed onto the roofs of the monuments, to defend the games. Supposedly with fans cheering them on.

In 420 B.C. Sparta was banned from participating in and spectating the games, for having violated a peace treaty.

Summer of 480 B.C. The Persian Army attacked Greece. Greek City States allied together to mount a defense, but could not find enough males to build the defensive force. Most of the able-bodied men had refused conscription, on account of they were going to the Olympics. Once the games were over, they returned, and their grand Army was formulated.

Nero’s visit in 67 A.D.

Nero was one of the most colorful Roman Emperor’s. Hated by politician’s and the upper class, but loved by the middle and lower classes. Nero loved theater, so he raised taxes to build theater’s. Nero often acted and played music in public, which the ruling class, saw as activities unbecoming of someone in the ruling class. The economy tanked, their monetary system deflated, and Nero raised taxes to create many public service projects, keeping the common people employed. After the great Roman fire, Nero funded Rome’s recovery and assisted the homeless as best he could.

Nero also liked to spend money on himself like a lavish villa in Olympia, and to perform crazy acts. In 66 A.D. Nero performed a wedding ceremony, in which he was both officiating the wedding, and he was the bride. The groom was a young man. Probably would have been seen as OK had he took the role of groom instead, but a bride in those days would have been a sign of weakness on his part.

Nero bribed the Olympic Committee to move the 66 A.D. Olympics to 67 A.D. so that he could attend, he decreed that they add theater and music completions so that he could compete, and they allowed him to enter the 4 horse chariot race event, with a chariot that was pulled by 12 horses. Nero fell off the chariot during the race, yet was awarded the winner on account of, he would have won, had he stayed on. After Nero’s suicide in 68 A.D., his name was removed as winner of that event.

Olympic Traditions continuing since ancient times

Olympiad – Zeus decreed that the games should only be held every 4 years, and so they were, forever after.

Eternal Flame – The goddess Hestia was the goddess of the hearth, home, domesticity, family, and the state. An eternal flame brunt in Hestia’s temple or structure, that was monitored by priests to ensure that it never went out. Often times this was the priests quarters, probably to make it easier to monitor. When a new Greek colony was established, one of the first items to be built, was a hearth, where the eternal flame was kept, and that flame was initially transferred from the Hestia hearth in the nearest colony to the new colony. If that flame went out (by whatever means), a ritual ceremony had to be performed, before it could be relit. This was one of the most important items in ancient times, as fire was needed for heat, to cook and prepare meals, and later for making tools and weapons.

Ancient Olympic Games

The participation in, and the spectating of, the games, was open to any free Greek male, regardless of class status. Unmarried females were allowed to spectate but not participate. The only married female spectator was the statue of the goddess Demeter. Probably because Demeter was the god of sacred law (amongst other duties). A reminder to the athletes that they had better not be cheating, because Demeter is watching. Yet there was a female on the winner list of an ancient Olympic event. The chariot race event win, was awarded to the owner and not the driver. Kyniska, daughter of a Spartan king owned a chariot that won in two different Olympiads. There were running contests for women, but those were side events that were not part of the ancient games.

The winner of the first recorded race was Koroibos, who was a cook by profession. For the first 13 Olympiads, the only competition was a single foot race of 195m(640 ft or 1/8 mile) over a sand track. In those days 195m was called 1 stadia.

By 500 B.C. the games lasted for 5 full days and consisted of running, jumping, throwing, boxing, wrestling, pankration (mixed martial arts) and equestrian events.

The winner received a red woolen ribbon that they often tied around their head, and a palm branch for the big parade on the last day. There was a big closing ceremony, where a wreath, made from olive branches (cut from the tree of Zeus, which was at the end of the Stadium) was put on their head. The crowning ceremony was considered sacred and serious, which is probably why the ribbon and palms were given out in advance, to celebrate before the closing ceremony.  Second place and below got nothing.

Ancient Athletic Equipment

There wasn’t any equipment, and therefore no perceived[A1]  advantage from it. All athletic activities were performed in the nude. It was felt, that this was a tribute to the gods, and encouraged aesthetic appreciation of the male body. The word gymnasium stems from the Greek word gymnos, which translates to naked.

In ancient Greece, it was common practice to undress when exercising, but physical training was only allowed for males who were at least 18 years old. Exercise was termed as education for both the body and the mind. Greek gymnasiums also offered scholarly instruction in philosophy, mathematics, and other ancient education, which is where the exercise of the mind came from. Ancient Greek scholars often hung out and debated at the Gym.


Running – Both as an individual event and as part of the pentathlon event. Race length; 1 stadia, 2 stadia, and one long distance race (from 7 to 21 laps depending on the year). For races longer than 1 stadia, the participants ran around a pole that was placed at each end. Race in Arms was a 2 stadia race where the participants wore a helmet, shin plates, and carried a shield, but otherwise were naked. That reminds me of being at sea in the Navy. A combat ship’s munitions storage area was always guarded by Marines. Every once in a while, a spurious intrusion alarm would go off, in the ship’s munitions storage area, at like 2 A.M (0200). Marines sleeping, would be summoned to respond to that intruder alert. I always had to chuckle to myself, when I saw a Marine double timing from the berthing (sleeping) area to the munitions storage area, carrying an M-16, wearing a helmet and combat boots, but only in his underwear (no time to waste dressing). A skinny dude in white briefs, just doesn’t look very fierce, even if he is carrying an M-16.

Chariot Race – 4 horses, a wooden chariot with 2 wheels and 12 laps around a track which is 4 stadia (1/2 mile or 790m) long, with a stone and/or wood barrier separating its length into 2 halves. Owner gets all the credit and the award for the win. There was a rule about not deliberately running into another chariot, but it happened all of the time and there were no penalties for it. Deaths were common in Chariot races. Since everyone tried to get the lead, and the inside position, the start was staggered so the horses on the outside were started first. Actually, the most outside chariot started first, and when it caught up to the next, the next innermost started, etc. The starting mechanism was created by the architect Cleoitas and consisted of a dolphin weight that was dropped, and the rope attached to it, caused the lanes starting ropes to be dropped in succession, as the dolphin fell. The lap counters were individual dolphin statues, that would be turned over, signifying that a lap had been completed. No red light, a wrecked chariot is just like part of the track, that can be driven over. The driver was required to wear a full length sleeved gown (probably to hide the blood when killed), and the feet were strapped into the bottom of the chariot. That had to be a wicked ride.

Discus throw - Only part of the pentathlon event – No running start, and all participants used the same disc.

Long Jump - Only part of the pentathlon event – A large stone (about the size of a bowling ball) must be held in two hands at all times. It can be extended during the jump, but must be held onto. Standing long jump only. 5 jumps in rapid succession. Allowed to have a flute player present to help the participant keep their rhythm and balance during the event.

Javelin Throw – Only part of the pentathlon event - Allowed to have a short leather strap to give the javelin additional rotation when letting go. The rotation helps keep it upright during flight and these ancient javelins were probably not very well balanced.

Wrestling – An individual event and part of the pentathlon event - Smother the body with olive oil and a dusting of fine sand (this was to make it easier to garb hold). No punching, No gouging the eyes or face with fingernails, no tripping and no biting. In Kato Pale wrestling (ground wrestling in mud), the wrestlers will wrestle until one opponent raises a single finger to acknowledge acceptance of defeat. In Orthia Pale wrestling (standing wrestling), the first wrestler to be thrown to the ground three times, loses. Only two wrestling classes, men and boys. The boys class was 18 to 20 years old, and the mens was over 20 years old.

Boxing - Boxers bound leather thongs across their knuckles. These were modified over time, and at one time included metal straps over the knuckles. The match ends when one opponent concedes defeat.

Pankration (mixed martial arts) – Similar to wrestling but all that is disallowed is biting and gouging of the eyes. Matches ends when one opponent raises a single finger to acknowledge acceptance of defeat.


Breaking a rule, was taking care of at the time of the infraction, by an official beating the individual whom created the infraction.

Collusion or Bribery to cheat, was taken care of by fining the individual(s) involved. The fines went towards the creation of bronze statues of Zeus, which carried the inscription of the individuals involved and the phrase “Victory is to be achieved by speed of feet and strength of body, not with money.”. These statues were called Zane’s and were erected on the walkway to the stadium. Sixteen where created and erected over the course of the entire Ancient Olympics.

Olympia Today

In 393 AD, the Christian emperor Theodosius I, forbade the celebration of pagan cults, which included the Games. Olympia was covered by up to 24 ft (8 m) of sediment, from a Tsunami that occurred in the Mediterranean around 600 A.D.

It was lost until 1776 when Englishman Richard Chandler, in search of antiquity items re-discovered it.

In 1874, the Greek state signed an agreement with Germany for an archaeological exploration of the Olympia site. The German Archeological Society started excavation and have been working on it ever since. The modern signs around the site are in three languages (Greek, English, and German).

In 1888 the first Archaeological Museum of Olympia was erected to hold the items that were found during the excavation.

In 1936 the tradition of the Olympic Torch relay was created. It always originates at the Temple of Hera in Olympia, by lighting the first torch with a curved metal cauldron that focuses the sunlight at a point where the torch is lite by the natural light (not sure what they do if there is a cloud or rain delay). The torch relay then progresses on a journey to the location of the modern day Olympic games (Because of all of the protests, now that relay only occurs in Greece and the hosting countries, but traditionally it traversed through many countries on its way). After the Officials give a 60 minute long speech at the ancient stadium, there is a torch lighting ceremony in front of the temple of Hera, that consists of several women dressed in white Greek, full length gowns, and men dressed in white tank tops and white skirts that end at the knee (I am not making this up). They then summon Apollo (God of the Sun),by beating drums, knocking rocks together, and playing flutes, while fair maidens prance around the grounds.  When they finally have Apollo’s attention, a high priest requests his assistance in lighting the first torch. That torch is then placed inside of a metal cauldron that intensifies the suns rays, and lights it. Immediately a backup device is lite from the torch, this is used to relight the torch if it goes out during the relay, so the flame can always be traced back to Apollo, even if it goes out along the way. Same if the stadium flame goes out. The torch makes its way to the ancient stadium, where the dudes in white skirts are prancing around. A young boy appears holding up a palm branch.  The first runner appears, his torch is lit from the fair maiden’s torch, and he is handed the palm branch. A white dove is released, and then the runner takes off on his journey, with 30 photographers who run with him for about the length of the track, then fall over in exhaustion.

A statue dedicated to Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern day Olympics, was erected on the ancient grounds after his death in 1937.

There was a forest fire here, in 2007, that nearly damaged this site. The God Apollo, probably blew it out, as it approached.

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Thank you for reading.

I'll see you next time,




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