Panhellenic Games

The eighth century BC saw the rise of religious sanctuaries and festivals that were not merely local but panhellenic (“all Greek”), attracting worshippers from all over the Greek world. These celebrated and reinforced the idea that Greeks everywhere belonged to a single cultural group sharing the same heritage, language, customs, and religion. These panhellenic religious functions offered opportunity for rituals and sacrifices, but they also offered competition in athletic games. The biggest attractions were the athletic games in honor of Zeus at Olympia (hence Olympic games) and of Apollo at Delphi. During the Olympic games, a sacred truce banning war throughout the Greek world was declared for the month in which the games were held. Events tested speed, strength, dexterity, and endurance, the qualities desired in a Homeric warrior. Of the foot races, the most prestigious was the stadion, an all-out sprint of about 210 yards—just over the length of two football fields. Other events included wrestling, boxing, the pankration (comparable to today’s mixed martial arts), the pentathlon, a track-and-field event combining five events, and chariot racing.