Ancient Olympic Fun Fact 16

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:

Wars went on hiatus during the Olympic Games.

Just as the modern Olympics strive to inspire international peace, the purpose of the ancient Games was to promote harmony among the Greek states. Probably the most tangible aspect of this was the Olympic Truce. Specifically, the Truce forbade participating states from taking up arms, pursuing legal disputes, and carrying out death penalties. With military conflict at a standstill, spectators could travel to Olympia in relative safety. The original duration of the Truce was one month but eventually extended to three months as the Games attracted visitors from further off.

By the way, violating the Truce resulted in heavy fines, and the Elean organizers were no respecter of persons when it came to fining. King Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, got fined because his soldiers robbed an Athenian traveler en route to the Games (he also had to compensate the victim for his financial loss). On another occasion, Sparta got fined for waging war at the time of the Truce. The Spartans refused pay, claiming the fighting took place before the Truce. Elis and Sparta hit an impasse, and the Spartans got barred from Olympia for the next two decades.

As to how the Spartans returned to the Games, that’s an interesting story, one my work in progress uses for its opening scene. 🙂

Tune in next week for more about the ancient Olympics!


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