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From Hutton Webster's, Early European History (1917); edited for this on-line publication, by ELLOPOS
I. THE LANDS OF THE WEST AND THE RISE OF GREECE TO ABOUT 500 B.C.
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The games occupied five days, beginning with the contests in running. There was a short-distance dash through the length of the stadium, a quarter-mile race, and also a longer race, probably for two or three miles. Then followed a contest consisting of five events: the long jump, hurling the discus, throwing the javelin, running, and wrestling. It is not known how victory in these five events taken together was decided. In the long jump, weights like dumb-bells were held in the hands, the swing of the weights being used to assist the spring. The discus, which weighed about twelve pounds, was sometimes hurled more than one hundred feet. The javelin was thrown either by the hand alone or with the help of a thong wound about the shaft and held in the fingers. In wrestling, three falls were necessary for a victory. The contestants were free to get their grip as best they could. Other contests included boxing, horse races, and chariot races. Women were apparently excluded from the games, yet they were allowed to enter horses for the races and to set up statues in honor of the victors.
THE VICTOR'S REWARD
The Olympian festival was profoundly religious, because the display of manly strength was thought to be a spectacle most pleasing to the gods. The winning athlete received only a wreath of wild olive at Olympia, but at home he enjoyed the gifts and veneration of his fellow-citizens. Poets celebrated his victories in noble odes. Sculptors reproduced his triumphs in stone and bronze. To the end of his days he remained a distinguished man.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE GAMES
There were few Greeks who at least once in their lives did not attend the festival. The crowds that gathered before and after the games turned the camp into a great fair, at which merchants set up their shops and money changers their tables. Poets recited their lines before admiring audiences and artists exhibited their masterpieces to intending purchasers. Heralds read treaties recently formed between Greek cities, in order to have them widely known. Orators addressed the multitude on subjects of general interest. The games thus helped to preserve a sense of fellowship among Greek communities.
Cf. The Ancient Greece * The Ancient Rome
Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) * Western Medieval Europe * Renaissance in Italy