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Classical Home School Lesson: The Roman Olympics

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Olympia – Olympics

 would be remise to ignore the heritage of the Olympics this week.

While the Olympics began in Ancient Greece as a tribute to Zeus, The Romans also participated in this tradition. The Romans LOVED all things Greek, so it’s no surprise that once the Roman Empire began, Emperor Augustus reinstated the games.

Many in the emperor’s families participated and a few even won, such as Tiberius’ adoptive son Germanicus who won the chariot races in the 199th Olympiad in 17 BC.

Emperor Nero even participated. in the 211th Olympic games. He famously declared himself the winner of the chariot races even though he had fallen off his chariot during the race. After he died, they actually struck that Olympic game out of the record.

Roman Games included: Running, long jump, shot put, javelin, boxing, pankration and equestrian events, such as chariot races.

The Romans held the games until 393 AD (over 400 years!). There is some tension as to why it ended around 393 A.D-450 A.D. Some say Emperor Theodosius (A Christian) called a ban on all pagan festivals (in the early days of the Olympics, sacrifices were made to the gods). Others say after the temple of Zeus burnt down in 420 AD and economic shifts, it fizzled out.

Today’s Olympic traditions started in 1896 in Athens Greece.

Today there are still many connections to the ancient Olympic tradition. The Olympic Torch for example is lit in front of the Temple of Hera in Olympia, Greece before the games begin and the torch relays around the world up until the opening ceremony when the torch lights the fire at the games (I have actually had the privilege of holding the torch during it’s relay across Kansas to Atlanta in 1994 – I had my mom look all over the house today for the picture and alas it has been lost) . Additionally, Latin makes up the modern motto for the Olympics — Citius, Altius, Fortius, “Faster, Higher, Stronger”.

There are no English Derivatives for Olympia besides Olympics. The Name Olympia is the name of the Greek city the festival took place in and Mt. Olympus which in mythology, is where the Olympian gods and goddesses of Greece lived. There are several modern uses of the word Olympus that all harken back to these ancient Greek myths.

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