Combat sports in the ancient Greek Olympics could be fatal
To trace the origins of the modern Olympic Games we must travel back nearly 3,000 years in time to Ancient Greece, when young men proved their physical prowess and fighting skills by competing in sporting activities.
But the ancient Olympic Games were not solely about sporting endeavour; they were also used as an opportunity for the Greeks to honour their gods, particularly Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, whose massive statue stood in the Valley of Olympia.
Many of the sports practised by the Ancient Greeks still exist in an adapted form today, including wrestling, boxing, running, jumping and throwing contests.
But there are important differences. Modern day spectators would be astonished if the athletes competed naked like the Ancient Greeks did.
Combat sports could be much tougher in those days: boxers fought wearing leather gloves with pieces of metal attached to their knuckles. The Greeks also fought in an event called the ‘pankration’ in which no holds were barred and eye-gouging was permitted.
Although the Olympic Games fell into decline after Greece was conquered by the Roman Empire in 146BC, the spirit of the games did not die away altogether.
Interest in the games was revived in the 19th Century after a wealthy Greek philanthropist paid for the renovation of an ancient stadium in Athens. The result was the 1859 Olympic Games staged between just two countries: Greece and the Ottoman Empire.
International interest grew, and in 1894 a French aristocrat called Pierre de Coubertin hosted a congress at the Sorbonne University in Paris in order to suggest a new modern Olympic Games.
De Coubertin’s ideas were met with international approval and the first Olympic Games of the modern age took place in Athens in 1896.
Since then the Olympics have gone from strength to strength, with competitors from all over the world taking part, and billions more watching on television.