Archeological data

Myths about the first Olympic games

The ancient Greeks thought that the first Games in Olympia were organized by heroes and gods. In his first Olympic Ode, dated to the fifth century BC, Pindar tells us about Pelops, the founder of the Games. Pelops, the son of Tantalus, came from Asia Minor to participate to a chariot race organized by Oinomaos, the king of Pisa in the Peloponnese. Oinomaos was told of an oracle according to which the marriage of his daughter Hippodameia would cause his death. Thus, he ordered his people to kill all the suitors who came to participate in the game. However, Pelops insidiously killed Oinomaos during the race and ended up marring Hippodameia. As king of the area, he was the first to organize the games to purify himself or, according to another version, to thank the gods for his victory. The organization of the chariot race was illustrated in the eastern pediment of the temple of Zeus in the 5th century BC. In the same way, Hippodameia instituted the Heraean games for the same reason. These were running games, conducted every four years and restricted uniquely to maidens.

The Idaean Heracles is another heroic figure associated to the first Games. Heracles came with his brothers Kouretes from Crete, defined the length of the stadium at Olympia, organized a foot race with his brothers and crowned the victor with a wreath of wild olive leaves. Pindar also records that it was Theban Heracles, the son of Zeus who brought the wild olive from the Hyperborean countries, founded the foot race, introduced the cult of Zeus and determined the boundaries of the Sacred Altis.

The historian Strabo reports that the descendants of Heracles (the Herakleidai) first organized the games, after the spread of the Aitolian and Dorian groups to Pisa. According to this interpretation, the Aetolian groups who conquered Pisa settled there under their leader Oxylus in the Late Mycenean period, ca. 1200-1100 BC. This occupation led to conflicts with the indigenous people, as indicated by the later antagonism between Eleans who migrated from Aetolia, and Pisatans. According to an Elean myth, Zeus took control of the sanctuary and founded the games.


Short description of the monuments at ancient Olympia

3D reconstructions:
Some of the most important buildings in ancient Olympia rendered in three-dimensions.

3D reconstruction of the Temple of Zeus in ancient Olympia.

Other games:
Short reference on other famous contests in ancient Greece

In the first person:
Young Ariston shares his experience in the Olympic Games

Olympic victors:
Database of the ancient Olympic victors based on each athletic event and each Olympiad

Specimen sources