This years Olympic Games have been in full swing for a few days now and although most people know that the Olympics have roots in Greece most do not realize that the Olympics have deep Pagan roots as well. These games are one of the most anticipated sporting events in the world today and athletes from around the world hope to be apart of them someday. The event of the Olympics is huge and attracts athletes from just about every country world wide. Of course in modern times it is a moment for mass marketing and merchandising efforts through commercials and sales of Olympic items. In the beginning of the Olympics, the events and games were held in honor the Gods and Goddesses of ancient Greece.
The original Olympic Games featured things such as art, poetry, authors, plays, painters and many sculptors. They would hold street shows that included entertainment in the form of fire eaters, jugglers, dancers, acrobats and palm readers. Author of “The Naked Olmypics” Tony Perrotte referred to the early Olympic Games as the “total pagan entertainment package” and he could not have made a more accurate statement. Unlike today, during the ancient Olympic Games war was placed on hold and differences were set aside for their duration. This practiced allowed athletes, vendors, and fans of the Games to travel safely without fear of being attacked by their enemies.
For the people of ancient Greece the Olympics were not just a time of fun and games but they were also a time of religious celebration. The athletic events, some similar to those in the current Olympic Games, were mixed with events such as sacrifices, rituals, prayer, and feasting. For more than a thousand years, the Olympics have been held once every four years. This has made the Games not just the longest running athletic event in history but also the longest running religious observation. Today’s Olympic athletes may not even know that they are honoring the ancient Greek Gods and Goddesses by participating in the Games.
The Olympic were originally held to honor Zeus who was known as the king of the Olympians. The first Olympics consisted of just one event. This event was a footrace and the first was won by a cook named Korobois. All athletes in these times made regular sacrifices to Zeus with hope that he would honor them for their skill and their talents. In the opening ceremonies, the athletes lined up in front of a giant statue of Zeus holding a thunderbolt, and made an oath to him in his Temple at Olympia.
Athletes participating in events of the Olympics participated in the nude. Historians are not certain as to why this was but attribute it to a rite of passage for the young Greek men. Although we find it very odd or even vulgar and indecent, nudity was very important to the ancient Greeks and they were not bothered by it as we are today.
Young women were allowed to attend the Olympics but only if they were brought by their father or a brother but married women never came to the festivities for any reasons. Prostitutes were always at the Olympics and were often brought in by merchants from far away places. A prostitute at the Olympics could earn a large amount of money during these events. Often as many as 40,000 people would attend making for a large pool of potential clients. Some of these prostitutes were actually hetaeras (high-priced escorts) but many of them were priestesses from the temples that were dedicated to Aphrodite the Goddess of love.
In about 400 CE as Christianity was coming about, Roman emperor Theodosius proclaimed that the Olympic Games were too Pagan in nature, and he banned them completely. This was just part of the Roman Empire’s shift towards Christianity and away from its Pagan roots. Some historians claim that this shift towards Christianity was intended to give the emperor more power (as a man ruling alone) and take power away from the union rules (male and female side by side). In Theodosius’ youth he was tutored by the bishop Ambrose of Milan and he passed a number of laws that were created to eliminate the Greco-Roman Pagan religions completely. This included getting rid of the rituals and ceremonies that celebrated the old Pagan religions of Greece and Rome. In order to make Christianity the religion of the region, all of the old ways had to be completely eliminated, which included the Olympic Games. The eliminations included death for anyone who resisted.