GREECE-THE. HELLENIC DAWN.
and colonized. There they founded the two cities of Gortyna and Lyttus.
The newcomers represented themselves as being of the same race with the
primitive Cretans, and claimed the glories of Minos as their own. There
was thus effected a solidarity of Dorian interests, not only in Southern
Peloponnesus, but also in the islands of Crete, Melos, and Thera. In the
political struggles of old, the Spartans could always depend upon these
island populations for sympathy and aid.
These migratory movements of the Hellenic tribes, in the shadowy era just
subsequent to the Heroic Age, are the events in which the myths and
traditions of the preceding times gradually melt away, and the dawn of
actual history is ushered in. From this time forth dates may be fixed
with. approximate certainty; yet actual certainty is not attained until
the establishment of the Olympic games; and since this event is the Year
One of Grecian chronology, it will be proper here to recount the
circumstances of the establishment of the Olympiad, and of the other
great periodic gatherings of the Greeks.
After their belief in a common descent and the possession of a common
language, the facts which most closely allied the Hellenes were their
great periodic games and festivals. To participate in these was to be
Greek; not to participate was to be barbarian. A spirit of union was
engendered among all the states, which, though not always triumphant over
jealousy and faction, was nevertheless of incalculable advantage in
promoting the common interests of the race in its competitions and
struggles with the outside world. Of these national festivals, in which
the predominating feature was the game or contest, there were four in
number: the Olympic, the Pythian, the Isthmian, and the Nemean. They were
open to all persons of the Hellenic race, and were attended by enormous
throngs gathered from all parts of the Grecian world and from kingdoms
beyond the seas. At what time they were instituted is not known; for they
came, like most of the other institutions of Greece, out of the shadows
of the mythical ages.
The Olympian Games, the most famous and popular of all, took their name
from the town of Olympia, on the banks of the river Alpheus, in Elis.
Here stood an ancient temple of the Olympian Zeus; and here, at some time
in the prehistoric period, the games began to be celebrated. As yet they
were only a local institution, and continued such until they were revived
and amplified by Iphitus, king of the Eleans, and Lycurgus, the law-giver
of Sparta. This important event took place in the year B. C. 776. So
great was the celebrity which the games under the new patronage at once
achieved, that henceforth their mythical history was neglected and the
celebration above referred to was numbered as the first Olympiad; and
from that were dated all the subsequent events of Grecian history. So
strong a hold did this Era obtain in public usage throughout all Greece
and the civilized world, that the method of dating by Olympiads was not
abandoned until the close of the fourth century, and then only by an
edict of the Roman Emperor Theodosius.
The Olympian games were celebrated every fourth year. In the first stages
of their development they embraced merely a contest for the palm in foot-
racing, the celebration lasting for but a single day. In a short time,
however, the competition was extended to other sports. Trials of
strength, as well as of fleetness, were introduced. Then came the
competition of skill. Wrestling, boxing, jumping, throwing the quoit,
hurling the javelin, were the more common of the sports. Afterwards, the
exciting horse-race and the chariot race were added. The driver entered
the course with four fiery steeds, harnessed abreast to the car in which
himself was mounted, and went whirling away like mad to gain a place in
advance of his competitors. At the same time that the scope of the
contest was enlarged, the period was extended from one day to five.
During the festival almost every hour witnessed a renewal of the sport.
The competition, though of the keenest edge, was always friendly, and
during the whole time of the prevalence of the institution fighting with
weapons was forbidden.