The pleasure that the Greeks had in competitions, running, boxing, discusthrow, etc. is already visible in Homeros in the so-called “funeral games for Patroklos”, held in honor of the cremation of the hero Patroklos. The Olympic Games, like the Nemean Games, had partly the same origin: in Olympia the tomb of Pelops played a central role, while in Nemea official games were held in memory of a little boy – Archemoros – who died there. But furthermore we see a strong religious component predominate. The four great Panhellenic games were held in honor of three deities, Zeus at Olympia and Nemea, Poseidon at the Isthmos and Apollo at Delphi. Of these four, the Olympic Games were the oldest, founded in 776 B.C. and were the example for the later games. The Pythian games in Delphi (like the Olympic games held every four years) were established in 586 B.C., the Isthmian games (every two years) in 582 B.C. and the Nemean games (also every two years) in 573 B.C. Age categories were drawn up for most parts, for men, youngsters and children. Incidentally, new competitions were also added (such as the mule race, possibly a bowing down to the kings of Sicily where many mules were bred), and also abolished. The Pythian games (in honor of Apollo, the god of music) also included musiccompetitions. In the four Panhellenic games, the prize to be won was exclusively a wreath (and of course fame and honor in the homeland). The smaller games also gave out prizes in kind, often of great value: olive oil in beautifully painted vases in Athens, bronze shields at the Hera games in Argos, woolen cloaks in Pellana and so on. Incidentally, Pindaros and Bacchylides mention many events of which we do not know the exact program, nor the prizes offered. Examples are the plays for Apollo Pythaieus in Megara, those for Iolaos-Herakles in Thebes, for the Graces in Orchomenos, those of Zeus Lykaios in Arkadia, or the games in Tegea, Clitor, Aigina and so on.
Photos on the right, stadium in Epidauros and Nemea.