History of the Olympic Games

The Olympic Games began in antique Greece 1000 BC. The Games at first assumed a cult role in the holy land of Olympia and actually began as religious festivals. At first the Games consisted of a single competition and gradually developed to a five day festival of sports such as wrestling and chariot races. Only men were allowed to compete or watch the Games. Women held their own competitions in the honor of the goddess Hera.

Beginning of the Olympic Games

In antique competitions winning was much more important that what the Olympic philosophy of Pierre de Coubertin provides for. Only  a few of the achievements of those days have been preserved as they could not be measured or timed.

Winners were given many benefits: they received an olive wreath, statue or vase, tripod of precious metal, were exempt from taxes, given free food, prized seats in the theatre and had odes sung and poems written about them. Winning was extremely important and a defeat was a shame for the entire city state.

Lists of winners are only known from 776 BC onwards, but historians have proved that the Games go further back into the second millennium. Some of the competitions that in the end lasted a total of five days were: running, duels, pentathlon, horse and chariot races and selection of the best trumpeter and best herald. Competitors received their awards on the final day of the Games.
In 391 AD Roman emperor Theodosius I officially forbade all pagan worship including the Olympic Games, thus marking the end of the Olympic movement.
Sports events began to slowly gain prominence through the middle ages but did not regain its value until the 19th century.  New sports such as golf, football and tennis developed and gymnastics gained prominence as a sport for the masses.

The modern Olympics

The greatest role in the development of Olympism was assumed by Pierre de Coubertin, Paris-born descendant of an old French family. He showed a great enthusiasm about the antique Olympic Games from a very young age. His idea was to restore the "noble and chivalrous" manner of training the body in the form of amateur sport that should be a prize onto itself. The ideals of sports meets should never be marred by material prizes for athletes or thoughts about profit or sports deals.


Coubertin sought tirelessly for a suitable forum for popularizing his ideas of the restoration of the Olympics. At a congress at the Sorbonne in 1894 a unanimous decision was made to restore the Olympic Games in 1896. First in Athens and then in another country capital every four years.