There are many legends surrounding the origin of the ancient Olympic Games. One of these associates the first Games with the ancient Greek concept of εκεχειρία (ekecheiria) or Olympic Truce. The date of the Games’ inception based on the count of years in Olympiads is reconstructed as 776 BC, although scholars’ opinions diverge between dates as early as 884 BC and as late as 704 BC.
From then on, the Games quickly became much more important throughout ancient Greece, reaching their zenith in the sixth and fifth centuries BC. The Olympics were of fundamental religious importance, contests alternating with sacrifices and ceremonies honouring both Zeus (whose colossal statue stood at Olympia), and Pelops, divine hero and mythical king of Olympia famous for his legendary chariot race, in whose honour the games were held. The number of events increased to twenty, and the celebration was spread over several days. Winners of the events were greatly admired and were immortalised in poems and statues.
The Games were held every four years, and the period between two celebrations became known as an ‘Olympiad’. The Greeks used Olympiads as one of their methods to count years. The most famous Olympic athlete lived in these times: the sixth century BC wrestler Milo of Croton is the only athlete in history to win a victory in six Olympics.
The Games gradually declined in importance as the Romans gained power in Greece. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Olympic Games were seen as a pagan festival and in discord with Christian ethics, and in 393 AD the emperor Theodosius I outlawed the Olympics, ending a thousand-year tradition.
During the ancient times normally only young men could participate.Competitors were usually naked, not only as the weather was appropriate but also as the festival was meant to be, in part, a celebration of the achievements of the human body. Upon winning the games, the victor would have not only the prestige of being in first place but would also be presented with a crown of olive leaves. The olive branch is a sign of hope and peace.
Even though the bearing of a torch formed an integral aspect of Greek ceremonies, the ancient Olympic Games did not include it, nor was there a symbol formed by interconnecting rings. These Olympic symbols were introduced as part of the modern Olympic Games.