The History of Laurel Wreath in the Olympic Games
Historical records indicate that the Olympic Games began in Ancient Greece in 776 BC, and continued without interruption until AD393, a period of 1170 years. These early games had a strongly religious element to them, and, in AD394, the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II banned the games as being a “pagan cult”
The original venue for the games was on the ancient plains at Olympia, in the western area of Peloponnesos known as Elis, and according to Greek mythology is the island of “Pelops” who founded the games. It was an area famous in mythology for being the location of magnificent temples dedicated to the Gods Zeus and Hera.
The early games were held as a religious festival dedicated to the Olympian Gods, and involving one event, a stade race held over 192 meters. Some myths attribute the first Olympic Games to the Hercules, who held foot races and gave the victors a wreath of wild olive leaves. These races were only eligible to men who raced in the nude. Women were allowed neither to compete or to watch, as the games were dedicated to Zeus, and therefore reserved for men only.
The victors of these early games received a ‘kotinos’, which was a wreath of olive branches from a sacred olive tree that grew behind the temple of Zeus, and which according to tradition Hercules (Heracles), founder of the games had planted.
The Games occupied such a central position in the life of Ancient Greece that time was measured by the four-year interval between each Games known as an Olympiad.
A sacred truce or “Ekecheiria”, banning all hostile acts for a period of one month (later increased to three months) was put into place during the month of the Olympiad. As the opening of the Games approached, citizens of Elis would travel throughout Greece to pass on the message proclaiming the sacred truce. This permitted athletes, artists and their families, as well as ordinary pilgrims, to travel in safety to participate in or attend the Olympic Games and return afterwards. Messengers known as “spondorophoroi” carried word of the truce, and announced the date of the games all over the Greek world, and armies and armed individuals were not permitted to enter the sanctuary.