Frequently Asked Questions about the Ancient Olympic Games

  1. Where did the Olympic games come from?
  2. Why were they held at Olympia?
  3. Were there other contests like the Olympics?
  4. Who could compete in the Olympics?
  5. Were women allowed at the Olympics?
  6. How were the athletes trained?
  7. What prizes did Olympic victors get?
  8. Who were the Olympic judges?
  9. What was the penalty for cheating?
  10. Where did the marathon come from?
  11. When did the ancient games begin and when did they end?

How were the athletes trained?

Harvard 1972.39
Side A: trainer at center
Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of Harvard University Art Museums

Athletics were a key part of education in ancient Greece. Many Greeks believed that developing the body was equally important as improving the mind for overall health. Also, regular exercise was important in a society where men were always needed for military service. Plato's Laws specifically mentions how athletics improved military skills. Greek youth therefore worked out in the wrestling-school (palaestra) whether they were serious Olympic contenders or not.

Olympia,Palaestra: Eastern portico from N
Photograph by Michael Bennett

The palaestra (wrestling-school) was one of the most popular places for Greek men of all ages to socialize. Many accounts of Greek daily life include scenes in these wrestling-schools, such as the opening of Plato's Charmides.

Young men worked with athletic trainers who used long sticks to point out incorrect body positions and other faults. Trainers paid close attention to balancing the types of physical exercise and the athlete's diet. The Greeks also thought that harmonious movement was very important, so athletes often exercised to flute music.

Harvard 1895.248
Tondo: strigil
Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of Harvard University Art Museums

After exercise, they cleaned themselves by rubbing oil over their bodies and scraping the mix of oil, sweat, and dirt off with a special instrument called a strigil.

Harvard 1960.484
Bronze strigil
Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of Harvard Art Museums

Ancient competitors were required to train at Olympia for a month before the Games officially started, like modern competitors at the Olympic Village.

To read more about these topics, see Further Resources.

This exhibit is a subset of materials from the Perseus Project database and is copyrighted. Please send us your comments.