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?

What was the penalty for cheating?

Olympia,Gymnasium: Inside two-aisled stoa on E side from N
Photograph courtesy of Frederick Hemans

" is the custom for athletes, their fathers and their brothers, as well as their trainers, to swear an oath upon slices of boar's flesh that in nothing will they sin against the Olympic games. The athletes take this further oath also, that for ten successive months they have strictly followed the regulations for training. An oath is also taken by those who examine the boys, or the foals entering for races, that they will decide fairly and without taking bribes, and that they will keep secret what they learn about a candidate, whether accepted or not." (Pausanias 5.24.9ff)

Anyone who violated the rules was fined by the judges. The money was used to set up statues of Zeus, the patron god of the Games at Olympia.

Harvard 1925.30.124
Side B: official on right, upper half
Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of Harvard University Art Museums

In addition to using bribes, other offenses included deliberately avoiding the training period at Olympia. One athlete claimed that bad winds kept his ship from arriving in time, but was later proved to have spent the training period traveling around Greece winning prize money in other competitions. Another athlete was so intimidated by his opponents that he left the Games the day before he was to compete, and was fined for cowardice.

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.