The New Student's Reference Work/Olympic Games

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Olym′pic Games, the most famous and splendid national festival of the Greeks, celebrated once in five years in honor of Zeus, on the plain of Olympia. Olympia was a beautiful valley near the river Alpheus, and contained temples, monuments, altars and statues, connected with Greek art and religion. There were about 3,000 statues at the time of the elder Pliny (23-70 A. D.). The sacred grove was a level space, nearly square, being 600 feet long and about 580 feet broad. It looked toward the Ionian Sea, with the rivers Alpheus and Cladeus on its southern and western boundaries. It was well-wooded and crossed by a road called the Pompic Way, the route taken by all the processions. The games date back of 776 B. C., but in that year became a national festival, and the custom of reckoning time by Olympiads began. The contests were at first permitted only among the Greeks, but after the Romans conquered Greece they took part in the games, Tiberius and Nero appearing in the list of victors. Women were not allowed to be present, with the exception of the priestess of Demeter. The games were held at the first full moon of the summer solstice, about the last of June. While the games were in progress, all hostilities were stopped by proclamation of heralds through the country. The contestants went through 10 months' training in the gymnasium at Elis, and the judges, at first two but later 12, were instructed as long in their duties. The judges held office only one year. The contests were foot-races, wrestling, boxing, leaping, running and throwing the spear and the discus or quoits, with chariot and horse races. On the fifth day there were processions, sacrifices and banquets to the victors. The victors, each holding a palm-branch, were presented to the people, and while heralds proclaimed their names and their parents', they were crowned with garlands of wild olive twigs, cut from a sacred tree of the grove. Statues were erected to them; they had the place of honor on public occasions; were usually exempt from paying taxes; and at Athens were boarded at the expense of the state. Songs were sung in their praise, as 14 of Pindar's lyrics bear witness. The games were abolished by Emperor Theodosius in 394 A. D.