During the Classical period all Greeks could participate in the Olympic Games, from various city-states in mainland Greece and its colonies, that extended from Gibraltar and south Italy and Sicily to the Black Sea. The participation of the slaves and the "barbarians" was strictly forbidden, as well as those who had committed a crime or had robbed a temple. In the Hellenistic period the games became international. The Greeks that participated were mainly professional athletes that came from Antioch in the East to Alexandria in the South and moved from city to city in an attempt to earn large sums of money. Later, in the Roman period, as the athletic spirit declined, the Roman emperors competed in Olympia, while they allowed slaves to take part in games that were organized in other cities.
According to a very strict rule, besides forbidding women from participating in the games, it was also not allowed to married women to enter the Stadium, who thus could not watch the events. This lasted only for the period of the games. The only woman who was allowed to enter was the priestess of Demeter Chamyne, who watched the games seated on the altar of the goddess, opposite the judges. In the Roman years this honorable post was held by Regilla, the wife of Herodes Atticus.
If a woman dared to break the law, the penalty was severe: they threw her from Mount. Typaion, as mentioned by Pausanias. The only woman who broke the law and was not punished was Kallipateira, the daughter, sister and mother of Olympic victors. She paid particular attention in raising and training her son Peisidoros, so she wished to see him compete in the games. She dressed as a man and entered the Stadium to watch her son running. After his victory in her attempt to enter into the field her clothes fell revealing her female body. However, the Hellanodikai did not punish her, honoring thus the members of her family who were all Olympic victors.
Interestingly enough, there were special running events for young girls, which took place in Olympia in honor of the goddess Hera every four years. At the Heraia, as they were called, young virgin girls took part, which were divided in categories according to their age -young girls, adolescents and women- dressed in a short robe and having the right shoulder naked to the breast. The winner received an olive-tree wreath and had the right to commission a sculpted image with her name at Heraion and was offered part of the cow that has been sacrificed to Hera. According to tradition, these games had been established either by Hippodamia in honor of her husband Pelops and his victory over her father Oenomaus or by the sixteen women of Elis that wove the goddess' peplos.
Women had the right to participate in the Olympic Games solely as owners in the equestrian events, since the owner was awarded the wreath and not the rider. Thanks to this institution, many women were crowned as Olympic victors. The first woman Olympic victor was Cyniske, daughter of Archidamus, king of Sparta, whose horses won in the tethrippon (396 BC). Belestiche from Macedonia, Timareta and Theodota from Elis also won in equestrian events.