Statues of the evictors stood in the sanctuary alongside those of the gods. At least 200 such effigies once stood at Olympia. In 430BC, the Athenian Sculptor Phidias created a 15 m gold and ivory statue of Zeus on his throne for the god’s temple. This giant effigy, set with precious stones, became one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Celebrations in honour of Zeus and his champions continued for several days after the events, which were concluded by a banquet held for the athletes and guests of honor in the Prytaneion, or communal hall. Then the crowd would disperse. Tents and booths were packed up. The spectators, hawkers, and pedlars took to the roads, and peace would settle on the sacred precincts of Olympia.
After the Romans conquered Greece in the middle of the 2nd century BC, the fixed programme of the Games suffered occasional interference. In AD 65 the emperor Nero insisted that music and drama be included among the sporting contests. He entered the chariot race himself – using a team of ten horses. He crashed, but still demanded the olive crown of victory. The following year the emperor committed suicide, and this 211th Olympiad was struck for the records.
But such changes by the Roam overlords were rare. The Games continued until AD 393, when the devout Christian emperor Theodosius I suppressed them as a pagan abomination. Earthquakes in the 6th century AD brought floods which deposited almost 5m of alluvial mud over Olympia.
The site lay relatively undisturbed until major excavations began in 1875. Partly as a result of the excitement at the findings, an enthusiastic French sports man, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, revived the Games as a showpiece for peaceful competition between nations. The 1896 Olympics included competitors from 13 countries. A century later, nearly 200 nations took part, a testimony to the spirit of international cooperation first created in ancient Greece.