Category Archives: Ancient Olympic Fun Facts

Ancient Olympic Fun Fact 31

Hope all of you have been having fun with the London 2012 Games so far. I am! Though I personally thought Beijing’s opening ceremony was a slightly better show than London’s, I was very impressed by the creativity that went into London’s flame “cauldron.” (I was wondering during the entrance of the athletes what the point of those metal pieces were). I was  also delighted by Rowan Atkinson’s Chariots of Fire bit. I used to watch Atkinson’s Black Adder series (yes, as a teen, I was into historical comedies), so seeing him as part of London’s opening ceremony was an unexpected treat.

Anyway, this will be my final Olympic fun fact as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators have their LA conference this weekend, and I’ll likely be too scattered to do a post next week. I will try to do a conference write-up though. So here’s our final factoid:

Spartans did not participate in boxing or pankration.

Both these events ended when a competitor got knocked out or admitted defeat, and to lose in either manner would’ve been dishonorable to a Spartan.

The ironic thing is that the Spartans probably invented boxing to toughen their faces. (!!!)

Enjoy the rest of the Games!

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Ancient Olympic Fun Fact 30

I saw my cousin this weekend, the one who’s going to the 2012 London Games. Looks like the events that he and his wife are attending are men’s soccer and volleyball. I didn’t realize this, but tickets for the Olympics are done by lottery. You put in a request for twelve events, and then you get what you get. And apparently, the lottery can choose to completely deny you tickets as well.

So, Cousin N, congrats on being able to witness what most of us can only dream of, and cheer the athletes for the rest of us! Oh, and here’s this week’s fun fact:

An official set of shields was used for the race in armor.

For the race in armor event, participants ran two lengths of the stadium wearing greaves and a helmet and carrying a round shield. Because this was before the time of standardized equipment, officials maintained a set of shields specifically for this race. When not in use, they stayed in the Temple of Zeus.

By the way, this particular event was a noisy affair (think about all that clanging metal), and amusing mishaps, collisions, and shield drops often occurred.

Tune in next week for more about the ancient Olympics!

Ancient Olympic Fun Fact 29

The 2012 London Games are starting in two weeks, can you believe it?! And I just found out my cousin and his wife are going (I’m jealous), plus they’re staying with my other cousin who’s currently on assignment in London so they don’t have to pay through the nose for lodging (double jealous).

Anyway, enough of my rambling. Here’s this week’s fun fact about the ancient Greek Olympics:

Hand weights were used in the long jump.

The long jump looked very different compared to the modern version. Instead of a running start, jumpers began from a standing position holding weights called halteres. They’d swing these back and forth and then simultaneously jump and throw the weights, coordinating the motion such that it propelled them forward. Often pipers played an accompaniment, possibly to help with the timing of the jump/weight throwing.

Stone halter

Early halteres were flat and made of stone or metal. Over time, the design changed, and jumpers used cylindrical stone weights with finger grooves.

Tune in next week for more about the ancient Olympics!

Ancient Olympic Fun Fact 28

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:

A two-day procession preceded the Olympic competition.

Just like the modern Games have their spectacular opening ceremonies, the ancient athletes also entered Olympia in style. The procession began in Elis, where the athletes would have just completed their compulsory training, and after an exhortation by the Judges, the contestants who’d made the cut proceeded to Olympia accompanied by officials and the hundred oxen designated for the festival sacrifice.

The route they used was called the Sacred Way. The procession took two days partly because it was 58 km long. The other reason it took so long was they had to perform rites, including sacrificing a pig, at points along the way. By the time the athletes hit the road, spectators would already be at or en route to Olympia, and their parade almost certainly drew a crowd.

Tune in next week for more about the ancient Olympics!

Ancient Olympic Fun Fact 27

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:

Despite having no water events, Olympia had a swimming pool.

Olympia’s open-air pool was unique in classical Greece. Built in the fifth century BC, it was 24 m long by 16 m wide and 1.6 m deep, with steps leading down into it from each side. It is uncertain why it was installed, but VIPs and athletes probably used it for recreation.

Tune in next week for more about the ancient Olympics!

Ancient Olympic Fun Fact 26

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:

Spectators watched standing.

Remains of the Judges Stand

Unlike ancient Greek theaters, the stadium at Olympia had no seats. Instead, everyone stood upon its grassy slopes to watch (considering the mobs of people that came to watch, it was probably more practical). The only exceptions were the Judges, who had a stand on the south side of the Stadium, and probably the priestess of Demeter, stationed at an altar on the north side. But some researchers believe that the seats were essentially honorary because the Judges should’ve been refereeing on the stadium floor during competition.

Tune in next week for more about the ancient Olympics!

Ancient Olympic Fun Fact 25

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:

Footraces began with a standing start.

Starting Sill

This stone sill is what the ancients used as a starting block. Runners would stand, their arms stretched forward, with one foot in front of the other and their toes gripping the grooves in the stone, as they awaited the signal to start.

Thanks to the archaeologists that unearthed the Olympic grounds, tourists can stand on the blocks ancient competitors once used, and they do. When we toured the site, some Greek schoolkids on a field trip were running races starting from those very blocks.

Tune in next week for more about the ancient Olympics!

Ancient Olympic Fun Fact 24

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.

Olympic Stadium Tunnel

This week I’m sharing a photo I took during my visit to Olympia in 2006. The arch pictured above is a partial reconstruction of the tunnel leading into the ancient stadium. Judges and athletes used this tunnel to make their grand entrance into the stadium, and you can imagine the thrill of the competitors when they stepped out into the sunlight to the roars of a cheering throng.

Tune in next week for more about the ancient Olympics!

Ancient Olympic Fun Fact 23

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:

Cheaters were severely punished.

Despite having to swear a solemn oath to the king of gods, cheating did occur at the ancient Olympics. This, of course, was frowned upon, and the organizers took measures to discourage it. Not only did violators face flogging by the Whip-Bearers, but heavy fines could be imposed, especially in cases of bribery.

Fines, by the way, were used to make statues of Zeus. Called Zanes, these statues stood near the entrance to the stadium, a physical reminder to athletes and their trainers of what happened if they broke the rules.

Tune in next week for more about the ancient Olympics!

Ancient Olympic Fun Fact 22

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:

The distinction between boys/men and colts/horses was not solely age based.

The ancient Games didn’t have weight divisions for their wrestling/boxing/pankration events, but as you’ve gathered from the previous installment, there were separate events for boys and men. It’s uncertain what the age cutoff was, but even if a youth was technically a boy, he could wind up in the men’s event if the Judges thought he was too well-developed to compete with his scrawnier peers. In fact, one of the Judges’ tasks during the month-long Olympic qualifiers was to determine what classifications young entrants fell in.

Tune in next week for more about the ancient Olympics!