The modern games derived from the Ancient Greeks were actually quite different in style, meaning, and form of the individual events. Ancient Greeks also had a powerful love of competition and sport, and with those two hungers constructed the Olympic Games. The Ancient Olympic Games are traditionally dated to 776 B.C.; but we know that Greek athletic competition had a long history prior to this recorded date. Homer devoted much of Book 23 of the Iliad to an account of the funeral games, really just sporting events, that Achilles gave in honor of his dead friend, Patroclus. In the Odyssey competitive games are an important part of the welcoming ritual organized by the Phaiakians for Odysseus. The ancient competition, naturally, was significantly different from our modern sports events. There were far fewer athletic events and only free Greeks (and sometimes boys) were allowed to compete in the games. There was no team competition, and the stress on individual achievement through public competition was related to the Greek ideal of excellence, called Arete. Like our modern athlete, men who competed successfully would win fame, honor, and oftentimes rewards for themselves and for their city or state. The biggest difference between the ancient and modern games is that the ancient games originally flourished in the context of a highly sacred religious festival. Olympia, a religious center devoted to Zeus, over time became the most important site for the ancient games. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the statue of Zeus by Pheidias, stood inside the Olympia temple of Zeus. .
A general truce between cities and states was usually called a month before and during each of the Olympic festivals so that spectators and athletes could travel safely to and from the games. A typical Olympics of the 5th century B.C. was held every four years, lasted five days, and was scheduled for the hottest time of the year.