2012 is significant in that it is a presidential election year, a leap year, and a summer Olympic year! The modern Olympics, of course, were inspired by the ancient Greek Olympics, a subject I’ve been researching for my work in progress. So in these months leading up to the 2012 London Games, I’ll be posting weekly tidbits about the original athletic festival that started it all.
Here’s this week’s fun fact:
Only free-born Greeks could compete in the Games
While athletes from all over the world compete in the modern Olympics, only those of Greek descent could enter the original competition in Olympia. It should be noted though that Greece at the time was a far from a unified entity so in a sense it was an interstate competition. Not to mention, the concept of an athletic festival was utterly foreign to other cultures.
However, things did change when Rome took over Greece. The Romans liked a lot about Greek culture, including their sports, and they compelled the Games to open up to Roman officials. The Emperor Nero very famously entered one Olympiad where he took the crown for the chariot competition despite falling off of his ten-horse chariot (all the other competitors had four-horse chariots). Eventually, all Roman citizens, whether Egyptian or Spaniard, Syrian or Armenian, could take part, turning the Games from a panhellenic festival to a more universal one.
Tune in next week for more about the ancient Olympics!