Ancient Greek Olympics: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

The ancient Olympics were established over 2,000 years before the modern Olympics but contained many of the same events, including races and feats of strength. Learn about the development of the Olympics by the ancient Greeks.

Olympic Origins

Athletes from around the world compete at the Olympics every two years to show off their fitness and skills. (The Summer Olympics and Winter Olympics alternate every two years.) Do you remember watching the opening ceremonies, the big races or other events? Every nation sends athletes to the Olympics as a display of global peace and harmony, and the whole world watches on TV and cheers on their country.

It's a tradition that was started over 2,000 years ago in ancient Greece, the home of many of the sports we enjoy today, but back then the Olympics weren't like today's. Let's learn more.

Going Back

There were no commercials for Coke or McDonald's in the original Olympics, because the first recorded games began in 776 B.C. The Greeks named the event after Mount Olympus, which was believed to be the home of Greek gods like Zeus and Athena. Originally, the Greek Olympics were dedicated to these gods. Athletes from all over Greece, including some who lived as far away as Spain but thought of themselves as Greek, honored the gods' greatness with competition.

The very first event in Olympic history was the stadion foot race, which spanned a distance of about 600 feet and is where we get the word 'stadium.' (The stadion track was also the sports arena, or stadium, for the Olympic Games.) For a few generations, this was the only event of the ancient Greek Olympics, but more and more were introduced over time.

Events

A lot of people watch football and basketball, but does anyone ever watch javelin throwing? It's not popular today, but ancient Greek warriors trained to throw javelins (spears) far and hard against enemies. Javelin throwing and disc throwing became popular in the Olympics, while races expanded from the original stadion to include the hoplite races, which were ran in full armor and carrying massive shields. Boxing and wrestling also became popular events.

An athlete competing in a pentathlon had to compete in five different events: a foot race, wrestling, javelin throwing, disc throwing, and the long jump. While the 26-mile marathon is popular in today's Olympics, it is a modern event: The ancient Greek Olympics did not feature a marathon.

Painting of Disc Thrower
Discus thrower

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