International Institute for Sport History
under section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code and is organized to operate a
Library and Museum devoted to the History of Sport, Physical Education, Recreation,
Dance, Sport in Art and the Olympic Games.
Donations are tax deductible
Federal Tax ID# 41-2041155
Introduction - Just the Facts
Ancient Olympic Games
This is because any existing records were lost in ancient times -- scrolls, statuary, inscriptions - none existed. Even the ancient Greeks in the 5th century BCE did not know when the Olympic Games actually started. All we know is that the ancient Greeks celebrated Olympic Games starting about 2,800 - 3,100 years ago.
Modern Olympic Games
Several cities had tried to bid for the 2024 and 2028 summer Olympic Games but one by one they dropped out due to political or public pressure against a bid. The IOC then decided to make some changes in the bid process and selected Paris for 2024 and Los Angeles for 2028 in an unusual decision of selecting two host cities in one IOC meeting. There was fear that cities would be reluctant to bid to host the Olympic Games in the future.
For example Boston, (USA) had been selected to be the US candidate bid city but withdrew in 2015 and was replaced by Los Angeles. Read about Boston's efforts to bid for 2024.
Hamburg (Germany) had a formal bid in place but withdrew in November 2015 after 51% of the public voted against the bid in a referendum. See this article about Hamburg's withdrawal.
Read about the major changes from the previous formalities of the entire bidding process at the IOC web site: All About the Candidature Process
Host cities of the Ancient Olympic Games
The map below shows all of Greece with the Peloponnese in the lower part in yellow. The orange island at the bottom of the map is Crete. The numerous pink islands on the right are all part of Greece. These beautiful islands are very popular tourist attractions today. See if you can find the island of Santorini which some historians believe is the mythical Atlantis. The gray area at the right side of this map is present-day Turkey. In the ancient era this gray region was also part of Greece and was under Greek influence and control. The ancient city of Troy was located there. You will probably recognize the ancient name of Turkey - it used to be known as the Persian Empire. The famous story of the 300 Spartans was part of the conflict between the Greeks and the old Persian empire.
Then the Romans conquered the Greeks and all this territory became part of the Roman Empire.
The large map below illustrates the vast size of the ancient Roman Empire around the year 39 BCE. The Olympic Games continued into the Roman era. When you look at the names of Olympic champions you will find that the athlete's names slowly change from common Greek names to Latin (Roman) names. In the year 80 BCE the Olympic Games were hosted in ROME, and not OLYMPIA.
When Rome collapsed in the 5th century CE this region was called the Byzantine Empire, and they controlled most of Greece. In 1453 this region was conquered by the Muslim Ottomans and then this region became known as the Ottoman Empire and they controlled Greece for the next 450 years. The Ottoman Empire ended in 1922, following World War I, and this gray area at right became the nation of Turkey. To this day there remains tension between the Greeks (at left) and the Turks (at right). Both countries fight over the island of CYPRUS to this day.
The Olympic Games in the ancient era took place in the Peloponnese (yellow) and attracted Greeks from the entire Greek world - and they all walked to Olympia. The modern Olympic Games took place in Athens (red area) in 1896, 1906 and 2004. Istanbul, Turkey was one of the three finalist cities bidding to host the Olympic Games of 2020 but Tokyo (Japan) was selected to be the host city.
The vast size of the Roman empire opened up participation in the Olympic Games
to both Greeks as well as all the other inhabitants of the empire, including non-Greeks.
The map below shows the Greek Peloponnese peninsula up close,
so you can see where OLYMPIA is located in the district of ELIS.
Find it on the map... middle row, second block from the left side.
See "ELIS" and then below see "Pyrgos" and then below is "Olympia."
Remember that to get there everyone had to walk.
Athens is at the right side. Sparta - look down near "LAKONIEN."
Unlike today - the ancient Olympic Games were a series of sports events that were celebrated as part of a much larger religious festival.
This FESTIVAL honored the Greek God ZEUS. The ancient Olympic Games were hosted by the ELIANS who were the guardians of the religious sanctuary to Zeus. |
They tried -- and succeeded for a few hundred years -- to be neutral, that is, not allied to other Greek city-states, similar to modern day Switzerland. But in the fifth century BCE (480 BCE) they allied themselves with Sparta and warred against their neighbors. The Elians lost control of the sanctuary to the Spartans, then to other Greek city-states, then finally to the conquering Romans.
In 80 BCE the Roman general Sulla moved the Olympic Games to Rome and only a single race for boys was held at Olympia, the stade race. But then Sulla died and the next Olympic Games returned to Olympia in 76 BCE. The Games stayed in Olympia until they were banished along with all other "pagan" festivals by Roman Emperor Theodosius I in 393 CE.
Ancient Greek temples were either knocked down by Roman soldiers or turned into Christian churches. When the Ottomans conquered the region they took control of the Christian churches and turned them into Mosques. In modern times there remains conflict over these ancient sites in several nations.
The Calendar known as the OLYMPIAD
The ancient Olympic Games and the modern Olympic Games are QUADRENNIAL events, meaning they are held every four years. This four year period of time is known as an OLYMPIAD. To the ancient Greeks it (an OLYMPIAD) was their calendar, a way of designating time. However, this calendar was not used by every Greek city-state and there is great difficulty in studying ancient history because of the calendar and modern attempts to "date" things. There was no accurate dating system in the ancient era and every civilization used a different calendar system.
There were calendars for the Babylonians, Hebrews, Greeks, Romans and many others. The one thing they all had in common was that they were conquered by the Romans.
As the Roman empire grew, there was a need for a more common system. Julius Caesar created the Julian calendar in 46 BCE.
Our modern calendar is based upon revisions to the ancient Roman Julian calendar that were made and instituted by the Catholic Church in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII. This revised calendar is known as the Gregorian Calendar. Using this revised calendar from 1582 becomes an issue when trying to date the ancient Greek Olympiads from 776 BCE, which was year "one" of the 1st Olympiad.
To make it very simple to understand -- your birth date this year would not have been the same date in ancient Greek times.
Just as in ancient Greece, the modern Olympic Games are held every four years at the beginning of the Olympiad. The 1st modern Olympiad began in 1896 when Pierre de Coubertin revived the Olympic Games and they were held in Athens. Therefore, these Games are referred to as The Games of the First Modern Olympiad. More specifically, the Games were held in "year one" of the "first modern Olympiad."
During the early years of the Modern Olympic Movement there was a disagreement over who should host the Olympic Games. The Greek Government wanted the Games in Athens permanently while Pierre de Coubertin, the French "founder" of the Modern Olympic Games, wanted the Games to rotate around the world to major sporting cities. So the Olympic Games of the second Olympiad were held in Paris, France and the Olympic Games of the third Olympiad were in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. The Greeks went ahead and scheduled their own Olympic Games in 1906, a tenth anniversary celebration of the 1896 Games. At that time these Games were considered "official," in spite of the calendar - not being a QUADRENNIAL event. From an historical perspective - the 1906 Olympic Games must always be included in Olympic record keeping. They happened -- they cannot be ignored. However, they are not called the Games of the fourth Olympiad -- because the Games of the Fourth Olympiad were held in 1908 in London, England. Is this confusing you? Don't worry -- it was confusing to everyone back then too. The Greek government did not hold any future Olympic celebrations because it was to expensive. The modern Games have continued to be hosted in cities around the world. The Greeks tried to get the 1996 Games because it was the centennial (100th birthday) of the Olympic Games, but the Games were hosted in Atlanta (USA). However the next Olympic Games -- in 2004 -- were held in Athens, Greece.
From Ancient Olympic Games to Modern Olympic Games
The ancient Greeks celebrated their Olympic Games without interruption for over 1,000 years, from 776 BCE to 261 CE. Quite remarkable! After the year 261 CE it is unknown what happened to the Games because all the records have been lost. There are no records in existing ancient "victor lists." Actually -- they abruptly end, probably because there was an invasion by the Heruli, a barbarian tribe from the coast of what is now southern Russia. Invading in a fleet of 500 ships they devastated Byzantium and Greece before the Romans forced them to retreat. The Elians erected defensive walls with towers around the Olympic sanctuary, but we had no evidence that any celebrations were held until such evidence was found in the 1990's.
There must have been something happening at Olympia. It must have remained a religious site to the Greek god Zeus. We know this because in the 1990's a bronze plaque was found that records the victors of boy's events in the Olympic Games of 381 CE and 385 CE. Then in 391 CE the Roman emperor Theodosius I, accepted the new religion known as Christianity to be the official state religion of Rome, and he outlawed all pagan religious festivals throughout the Roman Empire. Allow me to repeat that: Theodosius, a Roman Emperor, outlawed both the ancient Greek Gods and his own Roman Gods because he accepted the new religion of Christianity for his empire.
It is frequently written that the last Games held at Olympia were in 393 CE, but there is no evidence to support this. It is known that in 393 CE the Roman army was sent to Olympia to destroy the religious site in order to prevent the Greeks from having their pagan festivals. By 395 CE it is known that the great statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, had been removed to a Roman palace in Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Empire, where is was destroyed in a fire in 462 CE.
But evidence has been found that there might have been later Olympic Games until 425 CE. In 426 CE Theodosius II, grandson of Theodosius I, issued an edict to destroy all pagan temples. Such edicts by Roman emperors indicates that the Greeks may have continued some festivals through the years, but there is no historical evidence about the Olympic Games...no written records or victor lists, no descriptions in ancient Roman written books, no reliefs or carvings on stones or bronze markers.
The temple of Zeus at Olympia was burned to the ground. Rome itself had already been sacked by Allaric and the Visigoths in 410 CE. The "Dark Ages" had begun. Keep in mind that all these dates have been calculated by historians who have tried to use mathematics to "date" events. To study this problem of dating ancient events you would need to read more about the history of calendars.
For a much more detailed site on the history of calendars go here: The Greek Calendar and the index page for more calendar topics at: History of the Western Calendar.
Almost 1500 years had passed when Pierre de Coubertin, of France, organized a revival of the ancient Olympic Games and the first celebration was held in Athens, Greece in 1896. In the first 50 years of the Modern Games they have been cancelled three times. In 1916 the Games were scheduled to be in Berlin (Germany) but were cancelled due to World War I. In both 1940 and 1944 the Olympic Games were cancelled due to World War II. They were supposed to be hosted by Tokyo (Japan) and when the Japanese cancelled the Games an alternate city was chosen - Helsinki (Finland). But in 1939 the Soviet Union invaded Finland and for the second time the Olympic Games were cancelled.
In 1980 the United States led a boycott of the Moscow Olympics and in 1984 the Soviets retaliated and led a boycott of the Los Angeles Olympics.
Wars, politics, corruption -- these are forces that affect the modern Olympic Games as much as they affected the ancient Olympic Games. It affects the Host of the Games and it affects the calendar. Although an Olympiad cannot be cancelled because it is a period of time, the Games of an Olympiad can be cancelled. Below is a list of the host cities of the Ancient and Modern Olympic Games with Arabic numbers being used as well as Roman numerals (21st Olympiad as well as XXI Olympiad).
The proper way to refer to any Olympic Games celebration is to use the Roman numeral system such as: The Olympic Games of the IV Olympiad and to say it as "The Olympic Games of the fourth Olympiad." The Olympiad only refers to the summer Olympic Games as the winter Games were an afterthought and are not numbered, only dated. Therefore the winter Olympic Games take place within an Olympiad after the the summer Games were already celebrated.
Host cities of the Modern Olympic Games (Summer Games)
1896 - 1st Olympiad - I Olympiad - Athens, Greece
1900 - 2nd Olympiad - II Olympiad - Paris, France
1904 - 3rd Olympiad - III Olympiad - St. Louis, Missouri, USA
1906 - 3rd Olympiad, year 3 - III.3 Olympiad - Athens, Greece (sometimes called the "interim Games")
1908 - 4th Olympiad - IV Olympiad - London, England (Great Britain)
1912 - 5th Olympiad - V Olympiad - Stockholm, Sweden
1916 - 6th Olympiad - VI Olympiad - Cancelled - World War I (Scheduled for Berlin, Germany)
1920 - 7th Olympiad - VII Olympiad - Antwerp, Belgium
1924 - 8th Olympiad - VIII Olympiad - Paris, France
1928 - 9th Olympiad - IX Olympiad - Amsterdam, The Netherlands
1932 - 10th Olympiad - X Olympiad - Los Angeles, California, USA
1936 - 11th Olympiad - XI Olympiad - Berlin, Germany
1940 - 12th Olympiad - XII Olympiad - Cancelled, World War II (Scheduled for Tokyo, Japan.
Then re-scheduled for Helsinki, Finland & cancelled a 2nd time)
1944 - 13th Olympiad - XIII Olympiad - Cancelled, World War II (London considered, but war continued)
1948 - 14th Olympiad - XIV Olympiad - London, England (Great Britain)
1952 - 15th Olympiad - XV Olympiad - Helsinki, Finland
1956 - 16th Olympiad - XVI Olympiad - Melbourne, Australia and Stockholm, Sweden
(Horses were not permitted to be imported into Australia so the Equestrian events were in Stockholm)
1960 - 17th Olympiad - XVII Olympiad - Rome, Italy
1964 - 18th Olympiad - XVIII Olympiad - Tokyo, Japan
1968 - 19th Olympiad - XIX Olympiad - Mexico City, Mexico
1972 - 20th Olympiad - XX Olympiad - Munich, Germany
1976 - 21st Olympiad - XXI Olympiad - Montreal, Canada
1980 - 22nd Olympiad - XXII Olympiad - Moscow, Soviet Union (USSR)
1984 - 23rd Olympiad - XXIII Olympiad - Los Angeles, California, USA
1988 - 24th Olympiad - XXIV Olympiad - Seoul, South Korea
1992 - 25th Olympiad - XXV Olympiad - Barcelona, Spain
1996 - 26th Olympiad - XXVI Olympiad - Atlanta, Georgia, USA
2000 - 27th Olympiad - XXVII Olympiad - Sydney, Australia
2004 - 28th Olympiad - XXVIII Olympiad - Athens, Greece
2008 - 29th Olympiad - XXIX Olympiad - Beijing (also known as Peking), China
2012 - 30th Olympiad - XXX Olympiad - London, (England/Great Britain/United Kingdom)
2016 - 31st Olympiad - XXXI Olympiad - Rio de Janeiro, (Brazil)
2020 - 32nd Olympiad - XXXII Olympiad - Tokyo, (Japan)
2024 - 33rd Olympiad - XXXIII Olympiad - Paris, (France)
2028 - 34th Olympiad - XXXIV Olympiad - Los Angeles, (USA)
2032 - 35th Olympiad - XXXV Olympiad - Brisbane (Australia)
Host cities of the winter Olympic Games (Winter Games)
1928 - St. Moritz, Switzerland
1932 - Lake Placid, New York, USA
1936 - Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
1940 - Cancelled due to World War II - Scheduled for Sapporo, Japan.
Then re-scheduled for Garmisch-Partenkirchen & cancelled a 2nd time
1944 - Cancelled due to World War II
1948 - St. Moritz, Switzerland
1952 - Oslo, Norway
1956 - Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
1960 - Squaw Valley, California, USA
1964 - Innsbruck, Austria
1968 - Grenoble, France
1972 - Sapporo, Japan
1976 - Innsbruck, Austria
1980 - Lake Placid, New York, USA
1984 - Sarajevo, Yugoslavia
1988 - Calgary, Alberta, Canada
1992 - Albertville, France
the first year of an Olympiad to the third year of an Olympiad.
So there were only two (2) years between the 1992 and 1994 winter Games.
1994 - Lillehammer, Norway
1998 - Nagano, Japan
2002 - Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
2006 - Torino, Italy
2010 - Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
2014 - Sochi, Russia
2018 - PyeongChang South Korea
2022 - Beijing (China)
2026 - Milano Cortina (Italy)
2030 - To be selected by the IOC in 2023.