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OLYMPIAN GAMES
Form: Gr. Olympia.
The chief national festival of the Greeks, which was celebrated in honour of Zeus at Olympia, in the Peloponnesian district Pisatis, belonging to the Eleans, at the point where the Cladeus runs into the Alpheus. The institution of this ancient festival is sometimes referred to Pisus, the mythical founder of the city Pisa, which was afterwards destroyed by the Eleans, and before whose gates lay the sanctuary of Zeus; sometimes to Pelops, in whose honour funeral games were held at this point on the banks of the Alpheus. These were restored, it is said, by Heracles, who instituted the regular order of the festival. This opinion did not become current until the Dorian States, established after the immigration of the Heraclidae into the Peloponnesus, had been admitted to a share in the festival, which was originally frequented only by the Pisatans and their immediate neighbours. This admission dates from Lycurgus of Sparta and Iphitus of Elis, who, at the direction of the Delphic oracle, restored the festival of Zeus, now fallen into oblivion, and established the sacred Truce of God (see EKECHEIRIA), which insured a safe conduct at the time of the festival for all strangers resorting thither, even through hostile territory. In course of time the membership extended itself further, over all the Hellenic states in and out of Greece; and the festival was not only visited by private individuals, but also received sacred envoys from the several states. Through all the assaults of time it lasted on, even during the Roman rule, and was not abolished until 394 A.D., under the reign of Theodosius. From the time of the above-mentioned restoration by Iphitus and Lycurgus it was a quinquennial celebration; that is, it was held once in every four years, in midsummer (July to August), about the beginning or end of the Greek year. A regular and continuous list of the victors was kept from 776, when Corcebus won the race in the stadium, and with this year begins the Olympiad reckoning prevalent among the historians from the time of Timaeus. The duration of the festival was in course of time extended to at least five days. The place where the festival was celebrated was the Altis (see Plan), a sacred precinct at the foot of the hill of Cronus (Kronos), 403 feet high. The precinct, which was about 750 feet long by 570 feet broad, was surrounded by a wall ascribed to Heracles, having entrances at the N.W. and S.W. The centre, both by position and by religious association, was formed by the great sacrificial altar of Zeus, which rose on an elliptical base 128 feet in circumference to a height of 32 feet, and was composed of the ashes of the victims mingled with the water of the Alpheus. Round it were grouped the four most important sanctuaries, the temples of Zeus, Hera (Heraion), the Mother of the Gods (Metroon), and the holy inclosure of Pelops (Pelopion), besides a multitude of altars consecrated some to gods and some to heroes, and a countless host of dedicatory offerings and statues of every kind, among them, south-east of the temple of Zeus, the Nice of Paeonius (q.v.). The temple of Zeus, which was begun about 572 B.C. by the Elean Libo, was not completed in its main outline until about 450. It was a Doric hypaethral building (i.e. it had no roof over the cella, or temple proper); it was also peripteral (i.e. it was surrounded by a single row of columns). It was built of the local conchyliferous, limestone [called poros by Pausanias, v 10 § 2]. In its more finished parts it was overlaid with fine stucco, giving the appearance of marble, and was also richly decorated with colour. It was 210 feet in length, 91 in breadth, and 65 in height. The outer hall had 6 columns along its breadth and 13 along its length (each 34 feet high), while the inner hall had a double row of 7 columns. The eastern pediment was occupied by a representation of the contest between Pelops and OEnomans, with Zeus as the contre (fig. 1); the western, by one of the battle between the Centaurs and Lapithae, with Apollo as centre (fig. 2). The former was designed by the already-mentioned Paeonius; the latter, by Alcamenes of Athens. The accompanying cuts indicate the figures belonging to the two pediments, so far as their fragmentary portions were recovered in the excavations begun by the Germans in 1875. [While the outer metopes beneath these pediments had no ornament except a large plain boss on each, twelve other metopes sculptured with reliefs used to adorn the outer walls at each end of the cella or temple proper, six over the door of the pronaos, and six over that of the opisthodomos. All of these have been discovered: four by the French in 1829, and eight by Germans in 1875-9. Their subjects are the labours of Heracles. The best preserved of the series, and one of them which, as compared with the rest, is apparently the work of a mature and well-trained school of sculpture, is that representing Heracles bearing the heavens. Atlas stands by, offering to Heracles the apples of the Hesperidess, and on the other side one of the daughters of Atlas is touching the hero's burden with her arm, as though endeavouring to aid him in sustaining it (fig. 3).] In the chamber at the western end of the cella stood the greatest work of Greek art, wrought in gold and ivory by Phidias (q.v.). Outside the sacred inclosure, though still in direct connexion with it, were, to the west, the Gymnasium, and to the east the Hippodrome and the Stadium. [The Hippodrome has been washed away by the encroachments of the Alpheus. The Stadium, which was 600 Olympic feet in length, has been excavated to an extent sufficient to determine the length of the single course, between the starting-place and the goal, to be 192·27 metres-630·81845073 English feet. The Olympic foot therefore measured ·3204 of a metre-1·05120036 feet. The parallel grooves in the slabs of stone at each end of the Stadium still show the spot where the feet of the competitors in the footrace were planted at the moment immediately preceding the start. There is room for 20 at either end, separated from one another by posts at intervals of four Olympic feet from one another (fig. 4).] The festival consisted of two parts: (1) the presentation of offerings, chiefly of course to Zeus, but also to the other gods and heroes, on the part of the Eleans, the sacred embassies and other visitors to the feast; and (2) the contests. In the first Olympiad the contest consisted of a simple match in the Stadium (race-course) which had a length of a trifle more than 210 yards. The runners ran in heats of four, and then the winners in each beat competed together, the first in the final heat being proclaimed victor. About 724 B.C. the double; course (diaulos) was introduced, in which the runners had to make a circuit of the goal and return to the starting-point; about 720 came the dolichos or long race, where the distance of the stadium had to be covered either 6, 7, 8, 12, 20, or 29 times [Scholiast on Soph., Electra 691]; in 708, the pentathlon, or five-fold contest, consisting of leaping, running, quoit (diskos and spear-throwing, and wrestling (the last being also practised by itself); in 688, boxing. In 680 chariot-racing on the Hippodrome was introduced, and, though this was twice as long as the Stadium, it had to be traversed from eight to twelve times in both directions (at first with four horses, after 500 with mules, and after 408 with two horses). From 648 there were races, in which the horsemen, towards the end of the race, bad to leap from their horses and run beside them with the bridle in their hands. With the same year began the practice of the pancration (a combination of wrestling and boxing); with 520, the race in armour, with helmet, greaves and shield, though afterwards the shield alone was carried. Competitions between heralds and trumpeters also found a place here. Originally it was only men who took part in the contests; bat after 632, boys also shared in them. The contests were open only to freemen of pure Hellenic descent, provided that no personal disgrace had in any way attached to them; but, after the Romans came into closer relationship with Greece, they were opened to them also, and indeed (as is well known) the Romans were not officially considered barbarians. Even to barbarians however, and to slaves, permission was given to view them, while it was refused to all married women [Pausanias, vi 20, § 9], or more probably all women whatsoever, except the priestess of Demeter, who even received a place of honour among the spectators. Those who took part in the competitions had to take a solemn oath at the altar of Zeus to the effect that they had spent at least ten months in preparation for the games, and that they would not resort to any unfair trick in the course of their contest: this oath was taken for boy competitors by an older relative. Special practice for thirty days at Elis was also usual, but probably only for those who were coming forward for the first time. The duties of heralds and judges were discharged by the Hellanodici, appointed by popular election from among the Eleans themselves. Their number rose in course of time from 1 to 2, 9, 10, and 12, but after 348 it was always 10. Distinguished by purple robes, wreaths of bay-leaves, and a seat of honour opposite the Stadium, they kept guard over the strict observance of all the minute regulations for the contests, and in general maintained order. In these duties they were supported by a numbpr of attendants provided with staves. Transgressions of the laws of the games, and unfairness on the part of competitors, were punished by forfeiture of the prize or by fines of money, which went to the revenue of the temple. Out of the money from penalties of this kind, a whole row of bronze images of Zeus (called zanes) was erected in front of the eleven treasure-houses along the eastern end of the northern wall of the Altis. The games were opened with the sound of trumpets and the proclamation of heralds, the marshalling of the various competitors in the Stadium, accompanied by the announcement of their name and country by the herald, and the appointment by lot of the pairs of combatants. The victors in the several pairs of competitors had then apparently to contend in couples with each other until one couple alone remained, and the winner in this was declared victor. If the number of combatants had been uneven, so that one of them had remained without an opponent, he had finally to meet this rival. The contests were accompanied by the music of flutes. The name of the victor (and one, whom no adversary had come forward to meet, counted for victor), as well as his home, were proclaimed aloud by the herald, and a palm-branch presented to him by the Hellanodici. The actual prize he only received at the general and solemn distribution on the last day of the festival. This was originally some article of value, but, at the command of the Delphic oracle, this custom was dropped, and the victors were graced by a wreath of the leaves of the sacred wild olive, said to have been originally planted by Heracles, which had been cut with a golden knife by a boy of noble family with both parents living. After about 540 the victors also possessed the right to put up statues of themselves in the Altis. The festival ended with a sacrifice made by the victors wearing their crowns at the six double altars of the hill of Cronus, and with a banquet in the Prytaneum of the Altis. Brilliant distinctions awaited the victor on his return home, for his victory was deemed to have reflected honour on his native land at large. He made his entry, clad in purple, upon a chariot drawn by four white horses, amidst the joyous shouts of all the people, and then rode amid an exultant escort to the temple of the highest god, and there deposited his wreath as a votive offering. During the ride, as also at the banquet which followed thereupon, the song of victory, often composed by the most celebrated poets, was chanted by choral bands. There was no lack of other rewards: at Athens the Olympian victor received 500 drachmae, the right to a place of honour at all public games, and board in the Prytaneum for the rest of his life. The opportunity afforded by the assembling of so vast a crowd from all parts of Greece at Olympia was utilized, from about the middle of the 5th century before Christ, by authors, orators, poets, and artists, to make themselves known in the widest circles by the recital or exhibition of their works. When the compliment of a crown was offered by one state to another, the distinction was made generally known by being proclaimed by the heralds at the Olympian Games. <picture> <multi n="1">

Pictures and Media
EASTERN PEDIMENT OF THE TEMPLE OF ZEUS AT OLYMPIA; DESIGNED BY PAeONIUS. (Contest between Pelops and OEnomaus.)
WESTERN PEDIMENT OF THE TEMPLE OF ZEUS AT OLYMPIA; DESIGNED BY ALCAMENES. (Battle between the Centaurs and Lapithae.)
ONE OF THE METOPES OF THE TEMPLE OF ZEUS AT OLYMPIA. (Reduced from Overbeck's Gr. Plastik, fig. 93.)
THE STARTING-PLACE IN THE STADIUM AT OLYMPIA.
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PLACE HOLDER FOR COUNTER
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