On April 6th, 1896 – that’s 120 years ago today – the first ever modern Olympic Games kicked off in Athens, Greece. After a 1,500 year ban, this ancient tradition returned to its birthplace. Over 60,000 spectators filled the marble seats at Panathenaic Stadium to watch as athletes from 14 nations competed for gold medals and, well, the holy grail of bragging rights.
The ancient Olympic games were held as part of a religious festival honoring the Greek God who was the Michael Jackson of Pop, the Elvis of Rock, Mr. Zeus himself. The games reflected the ideology of the ancient Greeks, a society that glorified physical fitness. Athletes honored Zeus by flaunting the abilities of their heavily trained bodies and by making animal sacrifices. (Bonus question: which one of these traditions is no longer practiced?)
The earliest records of the Olympic Games date back to 776 BC, however historians believe the tradition started 500 years prior. As you may have guessed, this ancient version of the Summer Games was very different from the one we now enjoy watching every two years. The ancient Olympics were limited to Grecian males and included only a few events: foot races, wrestling, boxing, horse and chariot racing, etc. Today, male and female athletes venture from nearly 100 countries to compete in 300 events across 28 different sports.
As the games have grown and progressed, the significance has evolved as well. What was once a Grecian religious festival honoring a single god, is now a grand secular establishment, bringing together teams and individuals from nations with varying histories, languages, and cultures.
Even though today marks the 120th anniversary of the Olympics, we still have a few more months until the start of the 2016 Summer Games. We’ll be counting down the days until the ceremonial torch is lit!
Explore the culture and country that inspired the Olympics on an educational tour of Greece!