The Olympic games were played every four years (approximately). This
time span was called an Olympiad (the term Olympiad is still used today).
Originally the Olympics was a one day religious ceremony (See Rituals for other religious ceremonies) in honor of Zeus.
Later with the addition of more and more athletic events, music events
and story times, the Olympics moved to a five day celebration. The games
were almost like a big carnival. Athletes went to the sanctuary of Zeus
at Olympus and sacrificed a pig to Zeus and a black ram to Pelops. The
temple of Hera was the most sacred place for the games because in the meadow behind the temple was an olive grove. Olive branches were of particular
religious and sacred sentiment. In the meadow was the Hippodrome. This
was the actual stadium that the games were played in.
Also near the temple was a set of fires that were never allowed to
be put out. These were sacred fires that burned year round. (This is much
like our current Olympic flame that is run from Athens, Greece to its destination
at the Olympic games for that year.)
In the early games, when someone was crowned the victor, the athlete
thanked Zeus and the other Gods for favoring him. When an athlete went
home, it was thought that the area where he came from was in also in great
favor with the Gods.
The games were a time for athletes from all over Greece to come, lay
down their weapons and celebrate during the time of Heiromenia. Heiromenia
was approximately one month where all fighting ceased so that athletes
and spectators could travel to Olympia, participate in the games, feast
for the victor, and travel home. Then fighting could resume if there was
The prizes originally were tripods. However, in the 7th games, wreaths
of sacred olive branches cut by a golden sickle (long crescent moon shaped
knife with a short handle) by a boy whose parents were both living. The
victor would receive a wreath of olive branches as his prize during the
first few Olympic Games. Later, money prizes were given as the prize. But,
the prizes began to lose material value but gained moral value to the victor.