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The Ancient Greek Olympics

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The Olympics
An Introduction to Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece

Part 1: No Fighting Allowed

One of the more stunning true stories about ancient Greece was that during the Olympic Games, all fighting stopped. No matter how long or how fierce a battle had raged, every soldier in the battlefield put down his weapons and traveled to Olympia, there to compete in athletic games designed to honor Zeus and the other Greek gods. For seven days before and seven days after (and for the period of the Games, of course), no fighting was allowed. It was considered disrespectful to the gods.

These soldiers also were allowed to travel safely from the battlefields to the Olympic Games without fear of being attacked by anyone.

Why did this happen? Several reasons can be found:

  • The most important is that the Olympic Games were a religious festival. The Greeks considered it their duty to attend, and duty to their gods was more important than duty to their city-states, which were fighting the wars in the first place.
  • Many of the best athletes were soldiers whose commanders would not want them to leave the fighting. With the truce in place and the fighting halted, these soldier-athletes were free to compete in the Games and then return to the fighting when the Games had finished.
  • Some of the best athletes were not skilled fighters and weren't part of the army or navy. Since war was so much a part of life in ancient Greece, victorious soldiers came to be heroes for their city-states and role models for the young. Having the Olympic Games and showcasing the athletic talents of men who were not soldiers allowed city-states to celebrate heroes and role models who might not be the best fighters.
  • The athletes competed for themselves, not their city-states. In this way, they could be celebrated for their own accomplishments and not honored as only representatives of their city-states. This was another way in which the Olympic Games shifted emphasis away from the city-state. If Demetrius of Corinth won the running race, then he was celebrated as Demetrius--just Demetrius--not Demetrius of Corinth. This was to make sure that battlefield prejudices didn't spill onto the Olympic athletic fields.

Next page > The Games They Played > Page 1, 2 

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