The days of the Olympic Games

The days of the Olympic Games

About two months before the Olympic Games, spondofori (messengers) would announce to all Greeks the beginning of the Olympic truce. All cities suspended hostilities, wars were stopped, death penalties were postponed and the state of Elis was declared a neutral area - where arms and armies were not allowed to enter.

The athletes arrived safely in Olympia about a month before the Games to prepare and adjust to the environment. After the athletes were classified in to two age groups, the men and the boys, they trained at the Gymnasium, a very big covered square with the same dimensions of an open stadium.

The program of the Games was:

The First Day
The first day is the day of the official opening of the festival. On this day, the athletes took the official oath in front of the statue of Zeus Horkios (Zeus of the oaths). They swore they would obey the rules during the Games. The hellanodikai (judges) had to swear to judge fairly. Representatives from various cities conducted sacrifices in front of their protecting gods asking for athletic victories for their cities. The crowds would scatter around Olympia to admire the treasures of art, especially statues of previous Olympic winners that decorated the site. During the first day, competitions were held to declare the best messenger and the best trumpeter. Winner would be the one whose voice could be heard the furthest distance and he would become the Games announcer. Best trumpeter was the one whose trumpet could be heard the furthest, which gave him the right to blow the trumpet during the Olympic Games.

The Second Day
On the second day, the stadium was filled with people before sunrise, this was the day of the first competition. First was the stadion race. The herald called the participating boys, and the judges took their position. The judge handed out the urn and the runners chose their order by picking lots with letters on them showing their order. The herald announced the name of the victor at the end and the victor was awarded with the palm branch. Next, the boys wrestling competition started. The wrestlers fought in pairs, and the winners of the matches competed for the final. Then followed the boxing and the pankration matches. The games lasted until the late afternoon ending with sunset. Then, celebrations of the victors lasted until late into the night.

The Third Day
The third day is considered as the most important day of the Games because it started with the equestrian events. Most of the visitors traveled to Olympia mainly for this event. The most spectacular event was the chariot race. The magnificent chariots had to run ten times around the Hippodrome (about 1,770 meters) while the athletes used all their strength to remain standing - especially on the dangerous turns. In the early afternoon, the pentathlon game, a combination of five different events: long jump, short foot race, javelin throw (the light events), discus throw and wrestling (the heavy events), were held at the stadium. Athletes competed in the five games, and the two last victors competed in wrestling. The final winner of the pentathlon was declared victor. The day closed with ceremonies held in honor of Pelops, the mythical founder of the Games, in front of the Pelopion.

The Fourth Day
The day started with a big ceremony, the hecatombe, in honor of god Zeus: 100 oxen, offered by the Eleans, were sacrificed in front of Zeus' altar. The procession, set out from the Prytaneion, consisted of city representatives, priests, athletes and all other groups. Then, the games followed: Running (the stadion race, diaulos and dolichos), wrestling, boxing, the pankration and last the hoplitodromos (armed race). The runners that participated in the armed race ran carrying a shield, wearing a helmet and shin plates. The fourth day coincided with the full moon and was considered by all as the sacred day of the Olympic Games.

The Fifth Day
This was the day of the official closing of the Olympic festival. The winners were crowned during the last day. All of the victors would walk through the crowd that worshipped them, raising palm branches in their right hand, to the temple of Zeus. There, the eldest judge crowned them with the olive branch called the "kotino". This branch came from Zeus' sacred tree, located behind the temple. Their names and city of origin were announced by the herald in front of all onlookers. A number of sacrifices to the deities of Olympia took place in front of various altars. At the Prytaneion (the headquarters of the officials of the sanctuary), great feasts were given by the Eleans in honor of the athletes. The Olympic winners (Olympians) returned to their cities on a tethrippon (four-horse chariot) to receive special honors. People welcomed them applauding and part of the city's wall would be demolished for their entrance. The ekecheiria (truce) among the cities lasted for some time after the end of the Games to secure the safe return home of every athlete and spectator.


History of Olympic Games (Introduction)
The initial form of the Olympic Games
The athletic events
The evolution of the Olympic Games
The days of the Olympic Games
Some other versions about the origins of the Games
The Polynikes (multi-winners)
The meaning of the Olympic Games for Greece
The modern Olympic Games