previous next


OLY´MPIA (ὀλύμπια), usually called the Olympic games, the greatest of the national festivals of the Greeks. It was celebrated at Olympia in Elis, the name given to a small plain to the west of Pisa, which was bounded on the north and north-east by the mountains Cronion and Olympus, on the south by the river Alpheus, and on the west by the Cladeus, which flows into the Alpheus. Olympia does not appear to have been a town, but rather a collection of temples and public buildings, a full description of which does not come within the plan of this work. The whole district within the above-mentioned bounds was holy ground (τέμενος), sacred to Olympian Zeus, within which, on its northern side, was a quadrangular enclosure, of peculiar sanctity, called the Altis. The latter was in historic. times adorned with the most exquisite work that Hellenic art could produce in sculpture, painting, and architecture. Within it stood the temples of Olympian Zeus (Ὁλυμπιεῖον), of Hêra (Ἡραιον), and the treasurehouses of many Hellenic states; while in the centre rose the high altar of Zeus, in sacrifice whereon he revealed his will to his chosen priests, the Iamidae (Pind. Olymp. vi.). Many relics of ancient art have been recently discovered in the Altis and the surrounding space, and much light has been thrown on the topography of Olympia, by excavations conducted according to the agreement made in 1874 between the Greek and German governments. For a minute, full, and highly interesting account of the results thus obtained, the reader may be referred to the work of Adolf Boetticher, Olympia, das Fest und seine Stätte, 2nd edit., Berlin, 1886.

The origin of the Olympic games is buried in obscurity. The legends of the Elean priests attributed the institution of the festival to the Idaean Heracles, and referred it to the time of Cronos. According to their account, Rhea committed her new-born Zeus to the Idaean Dactyli, also called Curetes, of whom five brothers, Heracles, Paeonaeus, Epimedes, Iasius, and Idas, came from Ida in Crete, to Olympia, where a temple had been erected to Cronos by the men of the golden age; and Heracles, the eldest, conquered his brothers in a foot-race, and was crowned with the wild olive-tree. Heracles hereupon established a contest, which was to be celebrated every five years, because he and his brothers were five in number (Paus. 5.7.4). Fifty years after Deucalion's flood they said that Clymenus, the son of Cardys, a descendant of the Idaean Heracles, came from Crete, and celebrated the festival; but that Endymion, the son of Aethlius, deprived Clymenus of the sovereignty, and offered the kingdom as a prize to his sons in the foot-race; that a generation after Endymion the festival was celebrated by Pelops to the honour of the Olympian Zeus; that when the sons of Pelops were scattered through Peloponnesus, Amythaon, the son of Cretheus and a relation of Endymion, celebrated it; that to him succeeded Pelias and Neleus in conjunction, then Augeas, and at last Heracles, the son of Amphitryon, after the taking of Elis. Afterwards Oxylus is mentioned as presiding over the games, and then they are said to have been discontinued till their revival by Iphitus. (Paus. 5.8.1, 2.) Most ancient writers, however, attribute the institution of the games to Heracles, the son of Amphitryon (Apollod. 2.7.2; Diod. 4.14; compare Strabo viii. p.355), while others represent Atreus as their founder. (Vell. 1.8; Hermann, Pol. Ant. § 23, n. 10.) But of all the traditions respecting the origin of the Olympic games, far the most interesting to us is that which Pindar adopts. According to him (Olymp. 11.24-77; 3.14), they were founded by Herakles Amphitryoniades to commemorate his victory over the Moliones and Augeas. We translate freely a passage from the Eleventh Olympic ode:--“Thereupon did the valiant son of Zeus, gathering together in Pisa all his host and all the spoil of oxen which he drave, proceed to measure out a hallowed precinct (ζάθεον ἄλσος) consecrate to Zeus most mighty; and in the open plain with a fence of stakes he marked the Altis off, and appointed the space around it to be a place of rest, whereon the folk might take their evening meal; the while he honoured Alpheus' stream in union with the twelve sovereign gods. Then gave he to Kronos' Hill its name; for heretofore, as long as Oinomaos reigned, nameless it rose and wet with many a snowflake. And at this, the birth-rite of the festival, the Destinies, I ween, stood by, yea and Time, sole test of what is good and true, which as it onward sped did manifest in what wise the hero portioned out, and slew, and sacrificed, as first-fruits, the spoils which war had given him; in what wise too, in sooth, with this, the First Olympiad, and the victories thereat won, he ordained that henceforth, as each term of four years closed, the feast should be renewed.” The poet goes on to give a list of the victors at this celebration of the games, and it is worth observing that his record differs entirely from that of Pausanias, both in the names of the victors and in the other particulars (Paus. 5.7, p. 392).

Strabo (viii. pp. 354, 355) rejects all these legends, and says that the festival was first instituted after the return of the Heraclidae to the Peloponnesus by the Aetolians, who united themselves with the Eleans. It is impossible to say what credit is to be given to the ancient traditions respecting the institution of the festival; but they appear to show that religious festivals had been celebrated at Olympia from the earliest times, and it is difficult to conceive that the Peloponnesians and the other Greeks would have attached such importance to this festival, unless Olympia had long been regarded [p. 2.269]as a hallowed site. The first historical fact connected with the Olympian games is their revival by Iphitus, king of Elis, who is said to have accomplished it with the assistance of Lycurgus, the Spartan lawgiver, and Cleosthenes of Pisa; and the names of Iphitus and Lycurgus were inscribed on a disc in commemoration of the event; which disc Pausanias saw in the temple of Hera at Olympia. (Paus. 5.4.4; 5.20.1; Plut. Lyc. 1, 23.) It would appear from this tradition, as Thirlwall (Hist. of Greece, ii. p. 386) has remarked, that Sparta concurred with the two states most interested in the establishment of the festival, and mainly contributed to procure the consent of the other Peloponnesians. The celebration of the festival may have been discontinued in consequence of the troubles consequent upon the Dorian invasion, and we are told that Iphitus was commanded by the Delphic oracle to revive it as a remedy for intestine commotions and for pestilence, with which Greece was then afflicted. Iphitus thereupon induced the Eleans to sacrifice to Heracles, whom they had formerly regarded as an enemy, and from this time the games were regularly celebrated. (Paus. l.c.) Different dates are assigned to Iphitus by ancient writers, some placing his revival of the Olympiad at B.C. 884, and others, as Callimachus, at B.C. 828. (Clinton, Fast. Hell. p. 409, t.) The interval of four years between two successive celebrations of the festival was called an Olympiad; but the Olympiads were not employed as a chronological era till the victory of Coroebus in the foot-race B.C. 776. [OLYMPIAS]

The most important point in the renewal of the festival by lphitus was the establishment of the ἐκεχειρία (in the Elean dialect θέρμα = θεσμά; see Müller, Dor. i. p. 252), or sacred armistice, the formula for proclaiming which was inscribed in a circle on the disc mentioned above. The proclamation was made by peaceheralds (σπονδοφόροι), first in Elis and afterwards in the other parts of Greece; it put a stop to all warfare for the month in which the games were celebrated, and which was called ἱερομηνία. The territory of Elis itself was considered especially sacred during its continuance, and no armed force could enter it without incurring the guilt of sacrilege. When the Spartans on one occasion sent forces against the fortress Phyrcum and Lepreum during the existence of the Olympic truce (ἐνταῖς Ὀλυμπιακαῖς σπονδαῖς), they were fined by the Eleans, according to the Olympic law, 2000 minae, being two for each Hoplite. (Thuc. 5.49.) The Eleans, however, pretended not only that their lands were inviolable during the existence of the truce, but that by the original agreement with the other states of Peloponnesus their lands were made sacred for ever, and were never to be attacked by any hostile force (Strabo viii. p.358); and they further stated that the first violation of their territory was made by Pheidon of Argos. But the Eleans themselves did not abstain from arms, and it is not probable that such a privilege would have existed without imposing on them the corresponding duty of refraining from attacking the territory of their neighbours. The later Greeks do not appear to have admitted this claim of the Eleans, as we find many cases in which their country was made the scene of war. (Xen. Hell. 3.2, § 23, &c.; 7.4, &c.)

The Olympic festival was probably confined at first to the Peloponnesians; but as its celebrity extended, the other Greeks took part in it, till at length it became a festival for the whole nation, No one was allowed to contend in the games but persons of pure Hellenic blood: barbarians might be spectators, but slaves were entirely excluded. All persons who had been branded by their own states with atimia, or had been guilty of any offence against the divine laws, were not permitted to contend (Lex apud Dem. c. Aristocrat. p. 631,. § 37). When the Hellenic race had been extended by colonies to Asia, Africa, and other parts of Europe, persons contended in the games from very distant places; and in later times a greater number of conquerors came from the colonies than from the mother country. After the conquest of Greece by the Romans, the latter were allowed to take part in the games. The emperors Tiberius and Nero were both conquerors, and Pausanias (5.20.4) speaks of a Roman senator who gained the victory. During the freedom of Greece. even, Greeks were sometimes excluded, when they had been guilty of a crime which appeared to the Eleans to deserve this punishment. The horses of Hieron of Syracuse were excluded from the chariot-race through the influence of Themistocles, because he had not taken part with the other Greeks against the Persians. (Plut. Them. 25; Aelian, Ael. VH 9.5.) All the Lacedaemonians were excluded in the 90th Olympiad, because they had not paid the fine for violating the Elean territory, as mentioned above (Thuc. 5.49, 50; Paus. 3.8.2); and similar cases of exclusion are mentioned by the ancient writers.

No women were allowed to be present or even to cross the Alpheus during the celebration of the games under penalty of being hurled down from the Typaean rock. Only one instance is recorded of a woman having ventured to be, present, and she, although detected, was pardoned in consideration of her father, brothers, and son having been victors in the games. (Paus. 5.6,, § 51; Ael. VH 10.1.) An exception was made to this law in favour of the priestess of Demeter Chamyne, who sat on an altar of white marble opposite to the Hellanodicae. (Paus. 6.20.6; compare Suet. Nero 100.12.) Women were, however, allowed to send chariots to the races; and the first woman whose horses won the prize was Cynisca, the daughter of Archidamus, and sister. of Agesilaus. (Paus. 3.8.1.) The number of spectators at the festival was very great; and these were drawn together not merely by the desire of seeing the games, but partly through the opportunity it afforded them of carrying on commercial transactions with persons from distant places (Veil. 1.8; mercatus Olympiacus, Justin, 13.5), as is the case with the Mohammedan festivals at Mecca and Medina. Many of the persons present were also deputies (θεωροί) sent to represent the various states of Greece; [p. 2.270]and we find that these embassies vied with one another in the number of their offerings and the splendour of their general appearance, in order to support the honour of their native cities. The most illustrious citizens of a state were frequently sent as θεωροί. (Thuc. 6.16; [Andoc.] c. Alc. § 21.)

The Olympic festival was a Penteteris (πεντετηρίς), that is, according to the ancient mode of reckoning, a space of four years elapsed between each and the next succeeding festival, in the same way as there was only a space of two years in a τριετηρίς. According to the Scholiast on Pindar (ad Ol. 3.35, Boeckh), the Olympic festival was celebrated at an interval sometimes of 49, sometimes of 50 months; in the former case in the month of Apollonius, in the latter in that of Parthenius. This statement has given rise to much difference of opinion from the time of J. Scaliger; but the explanation of Boeckh in his commentary on Pindar is the most satisfactory, that the festival was celebrated on the first full moon after the summer solstice, which sometimes fell in the month of Apollonius, and sometimes in Parthenius, both of which he considers to be the names of Elean or Olympian months: consequently the festival was usually celebrated in the Attic month of Hecatombaeon. It lasted, after all the contests had been introduced, five days, from the 11th to the 15th days of the month inclusive. (Schol. ad Pind. Ol. v. 6.) The fourth day of the festival was the 14th of the month, which was the day of the full moon, and which divided the month into two equal parts (διχόμηνις μήνα, Pind. O. 3.19; Schol. ad loc.).

The festival was under the immediate superintendence of the Olympian Zeus, whose temple at Olympia, adorned with the statue of the god made by Phidias, was one of the most splendid works of Grecian art (Paus. 5.10, &c.). There were also temples and altars to most of the other gods. The festival itself may be divided into two parts, the games or contests (ἀγὼν Ὀλυμπιακός, ἀέθλων ἅμιλλαι, κρίσις ἀέθλων, τεθμὸς ἀέθλων, νικαφορίαι), and the festive rites (ἑορτή) connected with the sacrifices, with the processions and with the public banquets in honour of the conquerors. Thus Pausanias distinguishes between the two parts of the festival, when he speaks of τὸν ἀγῶνα ἐν Ὀλυμπίᾳ πανήγυρίν τε Ὀλυμπιακήν (5.4.4). The conquerors in the games, and private individuals, as well as the theori or deputies from the various states, offered sacrifices to the different gods; but the chief sacrifices were offered by the Eleans in the name of the Elean state. The order in which the Eleans offered their sacrifices to the different gods is given in a passage of Pausanias (5.14.5). There has been considerable dispute among modern writers, whether the sacrifices were offered by the Eleans and the Theori at the commencement or at the termination of the contests; our limits do not allow us to enter into the controversy, but it appears most probable that certain sacrifices were offered by the Eleans as introductory to the games, but that the majority were not offered till the conclusion, when the flesh of the victims was required for the public banquets given to the victors.

The contests consisted of various trials of strength and skill, which were increased in number from time to time. There were in all twenty-four contests, eighteen in which men took part and six in which boys engaged, though they were never all exhibited at one festival, since some were abolished almost immediately after their institution, and others after they had been in use only a short time. We subjoin a list of these from Pausanias (5.8.2, 3; 9.1, 2: compare Plut. Symp. 5.2), with the date of the introduction of each, commencing from the Olympiad of Coroebus:--1. The foot-race (δρόμος), which was the only contest during the first 13 Olympiads. 2. The δίαυλος, or foot-race, in which the stadium was traversed twice, first introduced in Ol. 14. 3. The δόλιχος, a still longer foot-race than the δίαυλος, introduced in Ol. 15.2 For a more particular account of the δίαυλος and δόλιχος see STADIUM 4. Wrestling (πάλη) [LUCTA], and 5. The Pentathlum (πένταθλον), which consisted of five exercises [PENTATHLUM], both introduced in Ol. 18. 6. Boxing (πυγμή), introduced in Ol. 23. [PUGILATUS] 7. The chariot-race with four full-grown horses (ἵππων τελείων δρόμος, ἅρμα), introduced in Ol. 25. 8. The Pancratium (παγκρἀτιον) [PANCRATIUM], and 9. The horse-race (ἵππος κέλης), both introduced in Ol. 33. 10 and 11. The foot-race and wrestling for boys, both introduced in Ol. 37. 12. The Pentathlum for boys, introduced in Ol. 38, but immediately afterwards abolished. 13. Boxing for boys, introduced in Ol. 41. 14. The foot-race, in which men ran with the equipments of heavy-armed soldiers (τῶν ὁπλιτῶν δρόμος), introduced in Ol. 65, on account of its training men for actual service in war. 15. The chariot-race with mules (ἀπήνη), introduced in Ol. 70; and 16. The horse-race with mares (κάλπη), described by Pausanias (5.9.1, 2), introduced in Ol. 71, both of which were abolished in Ol. 84. 17. The chariot-race with two full-grown horses (῾λππων τελείων συνωρίς), introduced in Ol. 93. 18, 19. The contest of heralds (κήρυκες) and trumpeters (σαλπιγκταί), introduced in Ol. 96. (African. ap. Euseb. Χρον. I. Ἑλλ. ὀλ. p. 41; Paus. 5.22.1; compare Cic. Fam. 5.1. 2) 20. The chariot-race with four foals (πώλων ἅρμασιν), introduced in Ol. 99. 21, The chariot-race with two foals (πώλων συνωρίς), introduced in Ol. 128. 22. The horse-race with foals (πῶλος κέλης), introduced in Ol. 131. 23. The Pancratium for boys, introduced in Ol. 145. 24. There was also a horse-race (ἵππος κέλης) in which boys rode (Paus. 6.2.4; 12.1; 13.6), but we do not know the time of its introduction. Of these contests, the greater number were in existence in the heroic age, but the following were introduced for the first time by the Eleans:--all the contests in which boys took part, the foot-race of Hoplites, the races in which foals were employed, the chariot-race in which mules were used, and the horse-race with mares (κάλπη). [p. 2.271]The contests of heralds and trumpeters were also probably introduced after the heroic age.

Pausanias (5.9.3) says that up to the 77th Olympiad all the contests took place in one day; but as it was found impossible in that Olympiad to finish them all in so short a time, a new arrangement was made. The number of days in the whole festival, which were henceforth devoted to the games, and the order in which they were celebrated, has been a subject of much dispute among modern writers, and in many particulars can be only matter of conjecture. The following arrangement is proposed by Krause (Olympia, p. 106):--On the first day, the initiatory sacrifices were offered, and all the competitors classed and arranged by the judges. On the same day, the contest between the trumpeters took place; and to this succeeded on the same day and the next the contests of the boys, somewhat in the following order:--the Foot-Race, Wrestling, Boxing, the Pentathlum, the Pancratium, and, lastly, the Horse-Race. On the third day, which appears to have been the principal one, the contests of the men took place, somewhat in the following order:--the simple Foot-Race, the Diaulos, the Dolichos, Wrestling, Boxing, the Pancratium, and the Race of Hoplites. On the fourth day the Pentathium, either before or after the Chariot and Horse Races, which were celebrated on this day. On the same day or on the fifth, the contests of the Heralds may have taken place. The fifth day appears to have been devoted to processions and sacrifices, and to the banquets given by the Eleans to the conquerors in the games.

The judges in the Olympic games, called Hlellanodicae (Ἑλλανοδίκαι), were appointed by the Eleans, who had the regulation of the whole festival. It appears to have been originally under the superintendence of Pisa, in the neighbourhood of which Olympia was situated, and accordingly we find in the ancient legends the names of Oenomaus, Pelops, and Augeas as presidents of the games. But after the conquest of Peloponnesus by the Dorians on the return of the Heraclidae, the Aetolians, who had been of great assistance to the Heraclidae, settled in Elis, and from this time the Aetolian Eleans obtained the regulation of the festival, and appointed the presiding officers. (Strabo, viii. pp. 357, 358.) Pisa, however, did not quietly relinquish its claim to the superintendence of the festival, and it is not improbable that at first it had an equal share with the Eleans in its administration. The Eleans themselves only reckoned three festivals in which they had not had the presidency,--namely, the 8th, in which Pheidon and the Piseans obtained it; the 34th, which was celebrated under the superintendence of Pantaleon, king of Pisa; and the 104th, celebrated under the superintendence of the Piseans and Arcadians. These Olympiads the Eleans called ἀνολυμπίαδες, as celebrated contrary to law. (Paus. 6.22.2; 4.2.)

The Hellanodicae were chosen by lot from the whole body of the Eleans. Pausanias (5.9.4, 5) has given an account of their numbers at different periods; but the commencement of the passage is unfortunately corrupt. At first, he says, there were only two judges chosen from all the Eleans, but that in the 25th Ol. (75th Ol.?) nine Hellanodicae were appointed, three of whom had the superintendence of the horse-races, three of the Pentathlum, and three of the other contests. Two Olympiads after, a tenth judge was added. In the 103rd Ol. the number was increased to 12, as at that time there were 12 Elean Phylae, and a judge was chosen from each tribe; but as the Eleans afterwards lost part of their lands in war with the Arcadians, the number of Phylae was reduced to eight in the 104th Ol., and accordingly there were then only eight Hellanodicae. But in the 108th Ol. the number of Hellanodicae was increased to 10, and remained the same to the time of Pausanias (Paus. l.c.).

The Hellanodicae were instructed for ten months before the festival by certain of the Elean magistrates, called Νμοφύλακες, in a building devoted to the purpose near the marketplace, which was called Ἑλλανοδικαιών. (Paus. 6.24.3.) Their office probably only lasted for one festival. They had to see that all the laws relating to the games were observed by the competitors and others, to determine the prizes, and to give them to the conquerors. An appeal lay from their decision to the Elean senate. (Paus. 6.3.3.) Their office was considered most honourable. They wore a purple robe (πορθυρίς), and had in the Stadium special seats appropriated to them. (Paus. 6.20, § § 5, 6, 7; Bekker, Anecd. p. 249, 4.) Under the direction of the Hellanodicae was a certain number of ἀλύται with an ἀλυτάρχης at their head, who formed a kind of police, and carried into execution the commands of the Hellanodicae. (Lucian, 100.40, vol. i. p. 738, Reitz; Etym. M. p. 72. 13.) There were also various other minor officers under the control of the Hellanodicae.

All free Greeks who had complied with the rules prescribed to candidates were allowed to contend in the games. The equestrian contests were necessarily confined to the wealthy; but the poorest citizens could contend in the athletic contests, of which Pausanias (6.10.1) mentions an example. This, however, was far from degrading the games in public opinion; and some of the noblest as well as meanest citizens of the state took part in these contests. The owners of the chariots and horses were not obliged to contend in person; and the wealthy vied with one another in the number and magnificence of the chariots and horses which they sent to the games. Alcibiades sent seven chariots to one festival, a greater number than had ever been entered by a private person (Thuc. 6.16), and the Greek kings in Sicily, Macedon, and other parts of the Hellenic world contended with one another for the prize in the equestrian contests.

All persons who were about to contend had to prove to the Hellanodicae that they were freemen, of pure Hellenic blood, had not been branded with atimia, nor guilty of any sacrilegious act. They further had to prove that they had undergone the preparatory training (προγυμνάσματα) for ten months previously, and the truth of this they were obliged to swear to in the Βουλευτήριον at Olympia before the statue of Zeus Ὅρκιος The fathers, brothers, and gymnastic teachers of the competitors, as well as the competitors themselves, had also to swear that they would be guilty of no crime (κακούργημα) in reference to the contests. (Paus. 5.24, [p. 2.272] § 2.) All competitors were obliged, thirty days previous to the festival, to undergo certain exercises in the Gymnasium at Elis, under the superintendence of the Hellanodicae. (Paus. 6.26.1-3; 24.1.) The different contests, and the order in which they would follow one another, were written by the Hellanodicae upon a tablet (λεύκωμα) exposed to public view. (Compare D. C. 79.10.)

The competitors took their places by lot, and were of course differently arranged according to the different contests in which they were to be engaged. The herald then proclaimed the name and country of each competitor. (Compare Plato, Leg. viii. p. 833.) When they were all ready to begin the contest, the judges exhorted them to acquit themselves nobly, and then gave the signal to commence. Any one detected in bribing a competitor to give the victory to his antagonist was heavily fined; the practice appears to have been not uncommon from the many instances recorded by Pausanias (5.21).

The only prize given to the conqueror was a garland of wild olive (κότινος), which according to the Elean legends was the prize originally instituted by the Idaean Heracles. (Paus. 5.7.4.) But according to Phlegon's account (Περὶ τῶν Ὀλυμπίων, p. 140), the olive crown was not given as a prize upon the revival of the games by Iphitus, and was first bestowed in the seventh Olympiad with the approbation of the oracle at Delphi. This garland was cut from a sacred olive-tree, called ἐλαία καλλιστέφανος, which grew in the sacred grove of Altis in Olympia, near the altars of Aphrodite and the Hours. (Paus. 5.15.3.) Heracles is said to have brought it from the country of the Hyperboreans, and to have planted it himself at the τέρμα of the hippodrome outside the Altis. (Pind. O. 2.14; Muller, Dor. 2.12.3.) A boy, both of whose parents were still alive (ἀμφιθαλὴς παῖς), cut it with a golden sickle (χρυσῷ δρεπάνῳ). The victor was originally crowned upon a tripod covered over with bronze (τρίπους ἐπίχαλκος), but afterwards, and in the time of Pausanias, upon a table made of ivory and gold. (Paus. 5.12.3; 20.1, 2.) Palm branches, the common tokens of victory on other occasions, were placed in their hands. The name of the victor, and that of his father and of his country, were then proclaimed by a herald before the representatives of assembled Greece. The festival ended with processions and sacrifices, and with a public banquet given by the Eleans to the conquerors in the Prytaneum. (Paus. 5.15.8.)

The most powerful states considered an Olympic victory gained by one of their citizens to confer honour upon the state to which he belonged; and a conqueror usually had immunities and privileges conferred upon him by the gratitude of his fellow-citizens. The Eleans allowed his statue to be placed in the Altis, which was adorned with numerous such statues erected by the conquerors or their families, or at the expense of the states of which they were citizens. On his return home, the victor entered the city in a triumphal procession, in which his praises were celebrated frequently in the loftiest strains of poetry. (Compare ATHLETAE Vol. I. p. 239 a.

Sometimes the victory was obtained without a contest, in which case it was said to be ἀκονιτί. This happened either when the antagonist, who was assigned, neglected to come or came too late, or when an Athletes had obtained such celebrity by former conquests or possessed such strength and skill that no one dared to oppose him. (Paus. 6.7.2.) When one state conferred a crown upon another state, a proclamation to this effect was frequently made at the great national festivals of the Greeks (Demosth. de Cor. p. 265).

As persons from all parts of the Hellenic world were assembled together at the Olympic games, it was the best opportunity which the artist and the writer possessed of making their works known. In fact, it answered to some extent the same purpose as the press does in modern times. Before the invention of printing, the reading of an author's works to as large an assembly as could be obtained, was one of the easiest and surest modes of publishing them;. and this was a favourite practice of the Greeks and Romans. Accordingly, we find many instances of literary works thus published at the Olympic festival. Herodotus is said to have read his history at this festival; but though there are some reasons for doubting the correctness of this statement, there are numerous other writers who thus published their works, as the sophist Hippias, Prodicus of Ceos, Anaximenes, the orator Lysias, Dio Chrysostom, &c. (Compare Lucian, Herod. 100.3, 4, vol. i. p. 834, Reitz.) It must be borne in mind that these recitations were not contests, and that they formed properly no part of the festival. In the same way painters and other artists exhibited their works at Olympia. (Lucian, l.c.

The Olympic games continued to be celebrated with much splendour under the Roman emperors, by many of whom great privileges were awarded to the conquerors. [ATHLETAE Vol. I. p. 241.] In the sixteenth year of the reign of Theodosius, A.D. 394 (Ol. 293), the Olympic festival was for ever abolished; but we have no account of the names of the victors from Ol. 249.

Our limits do not allow us to enter into the question of the influence of the Olympic games upon the national character; but the reader will find some useful remarks on this subject in Thirlwall's Hist. of Greece, vol. i. p. 390, and Grote's Hist. of Greece, iv. pp. 75 if.

There were many ancient works on the subject of the Olympic games and the conquerors therein. One of the chief sources from which the writers obtained their materials must have. been the registers of conquerors in the games, which were diligently preserved by the Eleans. (Ἠλείων ἐς τοὺς Ὀλυμπιονίκας γράμματα, Paus. 3.21.1, 5.21.5, 6.2.1; τὰ Ἠλείων γράμματα ἀρχαῖα 5.4.4.) One of the most ancient works on this subject was by the Elean Hippias, a contemporary of Plato, and was entitled ἀναγραφὴ Ὀλυμπιονικῶν (Plut. Numa, 1). Aristotle also appears to have written a work on the same subject (D. L. 5.26). There was a work by Timaeus of Sicily, entitled Ὀλυμπιονῖκαι χρονικὰ πραξίδια, and another by Erastosthenes (born B.C. 275), also called Ὀλυμπιονῖκαι (D. L. 8.51). The Athenian Stesicleides is mentioned as the author of an ἀαγραφὴ τῶν ἀρχόντων καὶ ᾿ολυμπιονικῶν (D. L. 2.56), and Pliny (Plin. Nat. 8.82) speaks of Scopas (?) as a writer of Olympionicae. [p. 2.273]

There were also many ancient works on the Greek festivals in general, in which the Olympic games were of course treated of. Thus the work of Dicaearchus Περὶ Ἀγώνων (D. L. 5.47) contained a division entitled Ὀλυμπικός ( Athen. 14.620 d).

One of the most important works on the Olympic games was by Phlegon of Tralles, who lived in the reign of Hadrian; it was entitled περὶ τῶν Ὀλυμπίων or Ὀλυμπίων καὶ Χρονικῶν Συναγωγή, was comprised in 16 books, and extended from the first Olympiad to Ol. 229. We still possess two considerable fragments of it. The important work of Julius Africanus, Ἑλλήνων Ὀλυμπιάδες ἀπὸ τῆς πρώτης, &c., is preserved to us by Eusebius; it comes down to Ol. 249. Dexippus of Athens, in his χρονικὴ ἱστορία, carried down the Olympic conquerors to Ol. 262.

In modern works much useful information on the Olympic games is given in Corsini's Dissert. Agonisticae, and in Boeckh's and Dissen's editions of Pindar. See also Meier's article on the Olympic Games, and Rathgeber's articles on Olympia, Olympieion, and Olympischer Jupiter in Ersch and Gruber's Encyclopädie; Dissen, (Ueber die Anordnung der Olympischen Spiele, in his Kleine Schriften, p. 185; Krause, Olympia oder Darstellung der grossen Olynmpischen Spiele, Wien, 1838; and Boetticher, Olympia, 1886.

In course of time festivals were established in several Greek states in imitation of the one at Olympia, to which the same name was given. Some of these are only known to us by inscriptions and coins; but others, as the Olympic festival at Antioch, obtained great celebrity. After these Olympic festivals had been established in several places, the great Olympic festival is sometimes designated in inscriptions by the addition of “in Pisa,” er ἐν Πείσῃ. (Compare Boeckh, Inscr. n. 247, pp. 361, 362; n. 1068, p. 564.) We subjoin from Krause an alphabetical list of these smaller Olympic festivals. They were celebrated at:--

Aegae in Macedonia. This< festival was in existence in the time of Alexander the Great. (Arrian, Arr. Anab. 1.11.)

Alexandria. (Gruter, Inscr. p. cccxiv. n. 240.) In later times, the number of Alexandrian conquerors in the great Olympic games was greater than from any other state.

Anazarbus in Cilicia. This festival was not introduced till a late period. (Eckhel, Doctr. Num. iii. p. 44.)

Antioch in Syria. This festival was celebrated at Daphne, a small place 40 stadia from Antioch, where there was a large sacred grove watered by many fountains. The festival was originally called Daphnea, and was sacred to Apollo and Artemis (Strabo xvi. p.750; Athen. 5.194), but was called Olympia, after the inhabitants of Antioch had purchased from the Eleans, in A.D. 44, the privilege of celebrating Olympic games. It was not, however, regularly celebrated as an Olympic festival till the time of the Emperor Commodus. It commenced on the first day of the month Hyperberetaeus (October), with which the year of Antioch began. It was under the presidency of an Alytarches. The celebration of it was abolished by Justin, A.D. 521. The writings of Libanius, and of Chrysostom, the Christian Father, who lived many years at Antioch, gave various particulars respecting this festival.

Athens. There were two festivals of the name of Olympia celebrated at Athens, one of which was in existence in the time of Pindar (Pind. N. 2.23, &c.; Schol. ad loc.), who celebrates the ancestors of the Athenian Timodemus as conquerors in it, and perhaps much earlier (Schol. ad Thuc. 1.126). It was celebrated to the honour of Zeus, in the spring between the great Dionysia and the Bendideia. (Boeckh, Inscr. pp. 53, 250-252.) The other Olympic festival at Athens was instituted by Hadrian A.D. 131; from which time a new Olympic era commenced. (Corsini, Fast. Att. vol. ii. pp. 105, 110, &c.; Spartian. Hadr. 13.) [OLYMPIAS]

Attalia in Pamphylia. This festival is only known to us by coins. (Rathgeber, l.c. p. 326.)

Cyzicus. (Boeckh, Inscr. n. 2810.)

Cyrene. (Boeckh, Explicat. Pind. p. 328.)

Dium in Macedonia. These games were instituted by Archelaus, and lasted nine days, corresponding to the number of the nine Muses. They were celebrated with great splendour by Philip II. and Alexander the Great. (Diod. 17.16; Dio Chrysost. vol. i. p. 73, Reiske; Suidas, s. v. Ἀναξανδρίδης.

Ephesus. This festival appears by inscriptions, in which it is sometimes called Ἀδριανὰ Ὀλύμπια ἐν Ἐφέσῳ, to have been instituted by Hadrian. (Boeckh, Inscr. n. 2810; compare n. 2987, 3000.)

Elis. Besides the great Olympic games, there appear to have been smaller ones celebrated yearly. (Anecdot. Gr. ed. Siebenk. p. 95.)

Magnesia in Lydia. (Rathgeber, l.c. pp. 326, 327.)

Zeapolis. (Corsini, Diss. Agon. 4.14, p. 103.)

Nicaea in Bithynia. (Eustath. ad Dionys. Perieg. pp. 172, 173, in Geogr. Min. ed. Bernhardy.)

Nicopolis in Epeirus. Augustus, after the conquest of Antony, off Actium, founded Nicopolis, and instituted games to be celebrated every five years (ἀγὼν πεντετηρικός) in commemoration of his victory. These games are sometimes called Olympic, but more frequently bear the name of Actia. They were sacred to Apollo, and were under the care of the Lacedaemonians. (Strabo vii. p.325.) [ACTIA]

Olympus in Thessaly, on the mountain of that name. (Schol. ad Apoll. Rhod. Argonaut. 1.599.)

Pergamos in Mysia. (Boeckh, Inscr. n. 2810; Mionnet, 2.610, n. 626.)

Side in Pamphylia. (Rathgeber, p. 129.)

Smyrna. Pausanias (6.14.1) mentions an Agon of the Smyrnaeans, which Corsini (Diss. Agon. 1.12, p. 20) supposes to be an Olympic festival. The Marmor Oxoniense expressly mentions Olympia at Smyrna, and they also occur in inscriptions. (Gruter, Inscr. p. 314, 1; Boeckh, Inscr. ad n. 1720.)

Tarsus in Cilicia. This festival is only known to us by coins. (Krause, p. 228.)

Tegea in Arcadia. (Boeckh, Inscr. n. 1513, p. 700.)

Thessalonica in Macedonia. (Krause, p. 230.)

Thyatira in Lydia. (Rathgeber, p. 328.)

Tralles in Lydia. (Krause, p. 233.)

Tyrus in Phoenicia. (Rathgeber, p. 328.)

[W.S] [J.I.B]

1 It would appear from another passage of Pausanias that virgins were allowed to be present, though married women were not παρθένους δὲ οὑκ εἴργουσι θεασᾶσθαι, 6.20.6); but this statement is opposed to all others on the subject, and the reading of the passage seems to be doubtful. (See Valckenaer, ad Theocr. Adon. pp. 196, 197.)

2 Some words appear to have dropped out of the passage of Pausanias. In every other case he mentions the name of the first conqueror in each new contest, but never the name of the conqueror in the same contest in the following Ol. In this passage, however, after giving the name of the first conqueror in the Diaulos, he adds, τῇ δὲ ὲξῆς Ἄκανθος. There can be little doubt that this must be the name of the conqueror in the Dolichos; which is also expressly stated by Africanus (apud Eus. Χρον. I. Ἑλλ. ὀλ. p. 39).

hide References (57 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (57):
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 5.1.2
    • Pseudo-Apollodorus, Library, 2.7.2
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 17.16
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.8.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.12.3
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.21.5
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.24
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.8.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.8.3
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.9.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.2.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.21.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.8.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.10
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.14.5
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.15.3
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.15.8
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.20.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.20.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.20.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.21
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.22.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.4.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.6
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.7
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.7.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.8.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.9.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.9.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.9.3
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.9.5
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.10.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.12.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.13.6
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.14.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.20
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.20.6
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.22.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.24.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.24.3
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.26.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.26.3
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.2.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.3.3
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.4.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.7.2
    • Thucydides, Histories, 5.49
    • Thucydides, Histories, 5.50
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.16
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 3.2
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 8.82
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.126
    • Plutarch, Themistocles, 25
    • Arrian, Anabasis, 1.11
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 4.14
    • Aelian, Varia Historia, 10.1
    • Aelian, Varia Historia, 9.5
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: