So the summer Olympics are in full swing and the speechifying both annoyed and amused me, like it does every time someone steps up to the podium. They always start blathering about peace this, peace that, spirit of peace, blah blah blah. They want you to think that the Olympics celebrate and are dedicated to peace.
Not so. The Olympics are very definately all about war.
Just take a look at the traditional events. Open hand martial arts like boxing, wrestling and a sort of anything goes cage match called pankration. Missile weapons were represented with the javelin throw. Chariots and cavalry were very important in combat, so those events were represented.
Should a hoplite become seperated from the line, his only chance to survive was by constantly moving in a swirling attack pattern so an enemy couldn’t attack from the rear. The discus throw was considered a good way to train for that.
The most famous of all Olympic events is the marathon, named after a famous battle in 490 BCE. The Greeks that won the battle knew that everyone back home in Athens was expecting them to lose, so it was very possible that they would surrender the city without knowing that they had kicked ass. So legend has it that one of the soldiers stripped off his armor and weapons and ran the 25 miles back to the city to give news of the victory before dying of exhaustion.
Before 490 BCE they did include relatively short distance running events in the Olympics, the longest of which was about 2.5 miles long. Some of these events called for the hoplites to run in full armor which illustrates the martial air of the games. But after 490 BCE they decided that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to train couriers for some long distance runs.
It’s true that the almost constantly warring Greek city states would have a truce when the Olympics were held. But this wasn’t an indication of a desire for the celebration of peaceful competition, but more a way to gauge your own training methods against those of potential enemies.
So the Olympics are a throwback to a time when your warriors’ physical fitness was the most important factor in the survival of your nation. If the members of the IOC were honest they’d admit it.