Ancient Olympics - A TRIP TO OLYMPIA

A TRIP TO OLYMPIA (Illustration) Government History Social Studies Ancient Places and/or Civilizations Sports

Historians believe these are the ruins of Pheidias' studio at ancient Olympia.  The most-famous sculptor of his day, Pheidias (among other things) created the statue of Zeus—one of the "Seven Wonders of the Ancient World"—which stood in Olympia's Sanctuary of Zeus. Photo by Alun Salt, online via Wikimedia Commons.  License:  CC BY-SA 2.0.


What did athletes, judges, and spectators see when they participated in the ancient Olympic Games? Between the writings of ancient historians, and ruins of buildings at Olympia, we can piece together what the games must have been like thousands of years ago.

  • Spectators sat on wooden stands which were mounted on the earthen bank surrounding the stadium. The distance from the foreground starting line to the finish line (with its still-original stones) was a stade (also called stadion and measuring about 192.28 meters) from which "stadium" gets its name.
  • Olympic athletes practiced running events in a Gymnasium at Olympia.
  • The Philippeion (situated to the left of the path which led back to the Stadium) was started by Philip of Macedon (also known as Philip II) and likely finished by his son, Alexander the Great, hundreds of years after the first Olympic Games.
  • Only foot races were part of the original games. Later, other sports were added and athletes, especially wrestlers, trained at the Palaestra.
  • Pheidias, the sculptor, had a studio at Olympia where he worked on his great statue of Zeus. Parts of the two-room studio, and its exterior, remain. 

Who participated in the ancient Olympic Games? Were female athletes allowed to compete? Were women allowed in the stadium to watch the competition?

Given the scope of our modern games, the restrictions which applied in ancient times may surprise you.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jun 01, 2005

Updated Last Revision: Jul 12, 2014

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