|The Story of Greece|
|by Mary Macgregor|
| Stories from the history of ancient Greece beginning with mythical and legendary stories of gods and heroes and ending with the conquests of Alexander the Great. Gives short accounts of battles and sieges, and of the men who made Greece a great nation. Ages 10-14 |
THE OLYMPIAN GAMES
 GREECE was made up of many separate States, each independent of the
other. But there were several bonds which united the
States. They spoke the same language, they worshipped the
same gods, they kept the same great festivals.
The festivals, held by a council called the Amphictyonic
Council, were honoured by all the States. The council was
made up of men chosen from twelve of the most ancient Greek
tribes and met twice each year.
The temple of Apollo at Delphi was under the care of the
Amphictyonic Council, and it was at Delphi that the
spring-tide festival was held. Another great festival of the
Amphictyonic Council was celebrated in the temple dedicated
to Demeter at Thermopylae.
The Amphictyons, as the members of the council were called,
did not govern Greece as a parliament governs a country.
But they often talked of what could be done for the good of
the States, and of how their interests could be united more
Of more power to weld the States together than the council,
were the national games, where members of all the different
countries of Greece met together.
The chief of these games was the Olympian Games, which were
believed to have begun far back in the shadowy past, and to
have been revived by Lycurgus the lawgiver in 776 B.C.
Olympia, where the games were held, was in the country
 of Elis in Peloponnesus. The King of Elis helped Lycurgus to
renew the interest of the Greeks in the ancient games.
It is said that when Apollo first saw the beautiful valley
of Olympia he exclaimed, "Here will I make me a fair temple
to be an oracle for men."
The ancient Stadium, or race-course, was erected in the
valley, as well as a temple to Zeus, in which the victors of
the games were given wreaths of wild olive. These wreaths
were valued more than any other prize or distinction in
Greece. Indeed at Olympia no other reward was given save
the simple wild olive branches, which were plucked from the
sacred grove in the Olympian plain, and twined into a
But when the victor returned to his own country, he was
loaded with gifts and honours, for he had gained for his
State and for his relations a glory which all longed to
In the Olympian temple, in later days, there was a marvellous
statue of Zeus in gold and ivory, wrought by the genius of
Pheidias, the greatest sculptor of Greece.
The games were open to all, and spectators as well as
competitors flocked to Olympia from every state in Greece.
To the Greeks these games were part of their religion; they
were rites pleasing, so they believed, to the gods.
Should there be war between any of the Greek States at the
time of the games, all hostile acts were forbidden in
Olympia. Until the festival was over, those who had been in
arms, one against another, might meet in safety and in
peace. Twice or thrice an armed force made its way into the
sacred territory of Elis to interfere with the games. This
to the Greeks was sacrilege.
In the earliest times the games lasted only for one day, and
a simple foot-race was the only event. But soon the
festival came to last five days, for there were now, not only
foot-races, but wrestling, boxing, racing in armour, and
above all else chariot races. In these races it was not the
 driver who, if successful, won the wreath of olive, but the
owner of the chariot.
In earliest times a simple foot-race was the only event
On the first day of the games, sacrifices were offered to
the gods, on the following three days the races were held,
while on the last day people marched in procession to the
temple and again offered sacrifices and feasted.
At the end of every four years the games were celebrated;
the time between the games being called an Olympiad. The
year 776 B.C. was counted as the first Olympiad, the second
began in 772 B.C. In ancient times the Greeks reckoned
their dates by the Olympiads, thus an event was said to take
place in a certain year of a certain Olympiad.
Games were held at many other places as well as at Olympia,
but the three most important celebrations, after the
Olympian, were the Isthmian, the Pythian and the Nemean.
To these festivals came the poets of Greece, prepared to
celebrate in song the skill of the victors. During the
intervals between the games, great numbers of the people
assembled in a hall to listen to the poets while they
recited their poems.
As the years passed the great Greek dramas or plays came to
be acted also at these festivals. At first the stage was a
simple wooden platform in the open air, but soon wooden
buildings were erected. Plays were performed at Athens in a
splendid theatre which was hewn out of the solid rock of the
Acropolis or citadel of the city. Tier after tier was cut,
until the theatre could hold thirty thousand spectators.
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