At the heart of symbolism

The five Olympic rings


Olympic flag

A brief history of the Games

The Hellenic competitions were created in honour of Zeus and Heracles during the VIIIth century before our era, in the town of Olympia located in the Peloponnese. Above all, they were of a religious nature in the etymological meaning of the word, i.e. to link people, to bring them together. They took place after the summer solstice and lasted 5 days:

  • The first day was devoted to religious ceremonies (processions, prayers, sacrifices, libations …) only, during which athletes were taking the oath.
  • The athletic tests began the second day with the chariot race, followed by the horse race and the five tests of the pentathlon: stadium (race of about 200m), wrestling 1, long jump, discus and javelin throwing.
  • During the third day, a big procession, a hecatomb (sacrifice of about one hundred bulls) and a banquet preceded the athletic tests of the "junior".
  • The two last days were reserved, among others, for violent sports (pugilism, pankration …). A race (of about 400m), accomplished by warriors at arms, marked the end of the competitions.

These competitions were reserved for Greek citizens only, which excluded women 2, slaves and metic (foreigners). Nevertheless, during the Alexander's conquest era and under the Roman domination, the competitions became Pan-Hellenic and began to be more "democratic". These meetings intended to associate body and spirit by combining musical and literary competitions with athletic tests. These spirit competitions were resumed by the baron Pierre de Coubertin at the time of the revival of the Games in 1893. They were abandoned after the Games of London in 1948 and reintroduced during the same Games in 2012.

The athletic, musical and literary meetings took place every four years until they were banned in 393 of our era by the emperor Theodosius. The first Olympic Games of the modern times were held in Athens, in 1896. Only a limited number of athletes and countries were able to participate to the first Games. It was only at the Games of Stockholm, in 1912, that the five continents were represented and that the idea of the five rings germinated in the spirit of Pierre de Coubertin. By a strange irony of fate, the Olympic rings symbolizing the union of the peoples, in reaction to the rise of the nationalist and xenophobic movements, was proposed on the eve of the first World War. The Olympic flag using these rings floated for the first time at the Games of Antwerp in 1920.

Let us mention that women were able to participate in tests compatible with their "femininity" at the Games of Paris in 1900. They were allowed to fully compete in the Games of Amsterdam in 1928, i.e. the very year of the adoption of the winter Olympic Games.

1 back Wrestling, pancratium (where everything was allowed apart from clawing eyes out and bitting) and pugilism (where only the use of fists was allowed) came under the category of fighting sports.

2 back Let us mention that the conqueror of the chariot race was not the charioteer, but the owner of the horses and harness. This is why the race could be won, in 396 and 392 before our era, by Cynisca, sister of Agesilaus, king of Sparta.

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