This year the delayed Olympics will be held in Tokyo, Japan, but do your children know from where they came?

Do they know that they came from Ancient Greek festival, which was part of a five day festival held every four years in honour of Zeus, the King of the Gods.

It is believed there were similar festivals as far back as the 13th century BC, yes, that long ago! However, the first recorded details we have are from 776 BC.

Nobody really knows their origins, though there are several legends, for example:

  • In this one Hercules had just won a race at Olympia, a valley near the city of Elis, then as winner he proclaimed that the race should be re-run every four years.
  • Another asserts that Zeus, the King of the Gods, founded the games after defeating his father, Cronus, in a battle over who controlled the world.
  • A further declares that the guardians of an infant Zeus held the first event.

In fact, the most likely one is that the King of Elis decided in 884 BC to open up a local religious festival to the whole of Greece.

The Olympics were first and foremost a religious event to celebrate the Ancient Greek gods, in particular Zeus. In Greece at this time there were several such festivals but by 572 BC the Olympics had become the most important. The reason they were around athletics was that they were always a major part Greek festivals.

Finally, the reason they were, and are still, held every four years (until Covid-19 changed it!) was because Greeks wanted them to start at the beginning of a four year period known as an Olympiad, originally the festival was organised to coincide with the start of this cycle, interestingly 776 BC is considered as the first four year Olympiad.

At Educational Musicals we published a musical The Ancient Olympics – The Legend of Callipateira a story around them, which you can download at

Let’s make History Fun.