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4.0 out of 5 stars All for Zeus, 17 July 2012
By 
Mac McAleer (London UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This is an enjoyable overview of the Olympic Games from its foundation in 776 BC to its suppressions by the Christians as a pagan cult in the 4th century AD.

The historical information about the Olympic Games is fragmentary so the authors also draw heavily on details of the other Hellenic games. They stress that all the games shared the same characteristics but that the Olympic Games was paramount and special.

There are many similarities and many differences between the original and modern
Olympics. Indeed, the modern Olympic Games were never meant to be a slavish copy but a modern interpretation retaining the spirit of the original.

The games were held within a sacred precinct where the athletes competed naked near to the Altar of Zeus and women were not allowed inside this area. Later, a temple to Zeus was built with a status of the god which was included in the "Seven Wonders of the World". Carrying a torch was not a part of the games. In Greece torches were carried in relay races from altar to altar as a religious ritual.

The running events, discus, javelin, wrestling and boxing would be familiar today although the boxing was more brutal. The long jump was from a standing start with the competitor holding weights to carry him forward. Chariot racing, horse racing and racing in armour would be a surprise to us. The pankration would probably be illegal, being a particularly violent combination of wrestling and boxing. There were no team games and only winners, with no second or third place except in the pentathlon, which comprised discus, long jump, javelin, running and wrestling.

Dedicated to Zeus at an already sacred site, it was as much a religious as an athletic occasion. The surrounding area was geographically remote and politically unimportant, allowing the games to be uninterrupted by the wars between the Greek city states or the later conquest of Greece by the Romans. The games are known to have been held every four years until at least 261 AD. Thereafter, there was a period of decline, an attack by a Germanic tribe, an earthquake and finally the rise of Christianity. One of the buildings was converted into a church and the two nearby rivers converted the area into a malarial swamp.

The idea of the games was revived by Dr. William Penny Brookes at Much Wenlock in Shropshire in 1850. This was followed by the creation of the modern Olympiad by the French aristocrat Pierre de Coubertin at the end of the 19th century.

The book is relatively short but authorative and the text is expertly supported by the use of illustrations. It has 132 pages of text with numerous line drawings and both colour and black and white plates.

CONTENTS
1. Ancient and Modern
2. Games and Festivals
3. The Olympic Programme
4. Spectators and Facilities
5. Rules and Officials
6. The Athletes
7. Training and Trainers
8. Games, Politics and Patronage
9. The Critics

BY THE SAME AUTHORS
M.I. Finley
Aspects of Antiquity: Discoveries and Controversies
Studies in Land Use and Credit in Ancient Athens
The World of Odysseus
History of Sicily: Ancient Sicily to the Arab Conquest
Early Greece: Bronze and Archaic Ages
Democracy Ancient and Modern
The Ancient Economy
The Use and Abuse of History

H. W. Plecket
Epigraphica
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5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendous read, 20 Nov. 2014
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An excellent book. Great read and lots of detail about the Ancient Olympic Games. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to get a better understanding of the Ancient Olympic Games. Good selection of photographs.
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The Olympic Games: The First Thousand Years
The Olympic Games: The First Thousand Years by H. W. Pleket (Hardcover - 29 Jan. 1976)
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