The Panhellenic Games

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The Olympic Games were the most famous sporting festival in Ancient Greece, but the Greeks did have others. Together, they were called the Panhellenic Games.

The Olympic Games, in Olympia, honored Zeus and took place every four years; this period was known as an Olympiad. Also taking place every four years, on a cycle that came two years after an Olympic Games, were the Pythian Games, honoring Apollo, at Delphi. In the second and fourth years of an Olympiad occurred the Nemean Games, honoring Zeus and Heracles, at Nemea. And the Isthmian Games, honoring Poseidon, took place every two years (the year before and the year after the Olympic Games) on the Isthmus of Corinth. The schedules were set so that athletes could compete at every Games.

Historians generally date the first Olympic Games to 776 B.C. Many historians say that the other three Games began in the 6th Century B.C.

Greek men running

Participants in the various games would come from all over the Greek world. Only Greek men could participate. Competitors represented their polis (city-state). A truce held during each Games and for a time before and then after each Games (for travel time). Even wars were put on hold so that athletes could compete in the Games.

Featured athletic events were boxing, chariot racing, pankration (a combination of boxing and wrestling), stadion, pentathlon, and wrestling. The stadion (about 200 meters) was one of several foot races; the others were the diaulos (two stadia), the hippios (four stadia), and the dolichos (up to 24 stadia). The pentathlon was a combination of discus throw, javelin throw, long jump, stadion, and wrestling.) In all events but chariot racing, athletes wore no clothes.

It wasn't just athletic events on offer. Other categories of competition included drama, poetry, music, and visual arts.

Winners of events at the Olympic Games received a garland of olives; Pythian Games winners received a garland of laurel, or bay leaves; Nemean Games winners got a crown of wild celery; and winners at the Isthmian Games received a garland of pine leaves. That was the extent of prizes handed out by Games organizers; winners often received great numbers of gifts from the people of their polis.

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David White