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After the uncertainty of not knowing if the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics would go ahead in 2021, we finally got the news that they would be going ahead but without spectators. Covid 19 didn’t only cause havoc in normal life it disrupted some of the biggest sporting events also.
The ancient Olympic games did start off as a religious festival and a good excuse for Greeks from all over the Mediterranean basin to gather for a riotous barbeque. On the middle day of the festival a vast number of cows were slaughtered in honour of Zeus, King of the Greek Gods – once he had been given a small taste, the rest was for the people.
Aristotle reckoned the date of the first Olympics to be 776 BC, a date largely accepted by most, though not all, subsequent ancient historians.It is still the traditionally given date and archaeological finds confirm, approximately, the Olympics starting at or soon after this time.
For the first 250-plus years all the action took place in the sanctuary of Olympia, situated in the north-western Peloponnese. Pock-marked by olive trees, from which the victory wreaths were cut, and featuring an altar to Zeus, it was a hugely scared spot.
The Ancient Olympic Games would last a full five days by the fifth century BC and saw jumping, running and throwing events. Additionally there were boxing, wrestling, pankration and chariot racing. At least 40,000 spectators would have filled ked the stadium each day at the height of the Games’ popularity, in the second century AD, with many more setting up stalls selling their wares outside.
If the modern games would have followed the same rules as the ancient games, it would have been a completely different event, I would dare to argue, perhaps an even more entertaining event.
- All athletes competed naked
- Wrestlers and pankration (a sort of mixed martial art which combined boxing and wrestling) competitors fought covered in oil
- Corporal punishment awaited those guilty of a false start on the track
- There were only two rules in the pankration – no biting and no gouging
- Boxers were urged to avoid attacking the on-display male genitals
- There were no points, no time limits and no weight classifications in the boxing
- Athletes in the combat sports had to indicate their surrender by raising their index fingers – at times they died before they could do this
- Boxers who could not be separated could opt for klimax, a system whereby one fighter was granted a free hit and then vice-versa – a toss of a coin decided who went first
For most of its history, Olympic events were performed in the nude. Greek Historian Pausanias says that the first naked runner was Orsippus, winner of the stadion race in 720 BC, who simply lost his garment on purpose because running without it was easier.
There are no records of women competitors during the ancient games. Ig there were they probably would have looked something like these athletes.
I am looking forward to the 2020/2021 Tokyo Games and I hope they will be a great success, because despite all the recent scandals it remains a feat of human achievment
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