What are the main similarities and differences between the sanctuaries of Olympia and Delphi? Reflecting upon Olympia and Delphi, it is possible to highlight both similarities and differences between the two sanctuaries. In examining the location and the main attributes of each sanctuary, it is clear how they differ and how they are comparable in various ways. Whilst they clearly differ in their geographical situation, they are similar in that they both host their own games. However it is what occurs in these games that distinguish between the two.
Both sanctuaries have considerable religious elements to them; however it is arguable that Delphi has more religious significance to the rest of the world, its main attribute being the oracle, and Olympia seems to prize itself more on its games rather than its religious significance, as the games had such an effect on the Ancient Grecian world. Olympia site plan Olympia is situated in the alluvial valley formed between the confluence of the two rivers, Kladeos and Alpheos, a huge positive in terms of transportation of goods for trade.
In particular materials imported for statues and temple buildings such as marble and stone.
Having these rivers so close to hand also aided Olympia when it hosted its Olympic games, competitors from all over Greece would be able to travel by water to get to the famous site. Delphi in contrast to Olympia is sited on multiple terraces along the slope of Mount Parnassus, and is enclosed by the Phadriades, ‘the shining ones’- sheer rock face twin peaks of Mount Parnassus, that were pathless and inaccessible. Based in a remote location ensued that Delphi was in neutral territory, away from any political powers. This was important as it meant that its famous oracle was protected from any outside forces.
Easily reached from the sea, Delphi was just off one of the main routes through Greece, so it had many visitors, wanting to obtain their prophecy from its mysterious and very famous prophetess. Delphi site plan A similarity between both Olympia and Delphi is that they both hosted their own Greek Games. Delphi hosted the Pythian Games, which were held every third year of the Olympiad, in honour of Apollo. It was originally a music competition held every eight years with hymns to Apollo sung to the cithara; however in 582BC it was reorganised and athletic, equestrian and chariot vents were added. It would last over five days; the first consisted of religious ceremonies, a sacrifice and performance of the struggle between Apollo and the python would be performed. The second day a large banquet was held for all whom competed; on the third day were the musical contests, which even after the introduction of the sporting events still remained the most important occurrences during the games. The athletic contests took place on the fourth day, and the horse contests, on the fifth. Similarly, the Olympic Games, hosted in Olympia, were spread over five days.
They are the most famous of the Greek games, and the people of Olympia prided themselves on them. It was held every four years from 776BC, until it was abolished in AD393 by Emperor Theodosius, a Christian, as he did not think that the Games were religious enough. However, years later, a Frenchman named Baron Pierre de Coubertin campaigned to have them reinstated, and in Athens 1896, the first modern Olympic Games were hosted. The Ancient games were organised in honour of Zeus, the father of all gods, and were said to be founded by Herakles or Pelops.
A month prior to the beginning of the games, the competing Olympians would have to come to Elis, near Olympia, to train under the watch of the hellanodikai, who were the ‘judges of the Greeks’ referring to the rule that all participants had to be Greeks. The hellanodikai had various tasks which overall made them the organizers and judges of the games. Part of the job of a hellanodikai was to make sure that nobody cheated during the competition, and they enlisted umpires, who were called stick- or whip-bearers to give out punishments to those who offended the rules.
In the image of a black figure vase, we can see a clear distinction between the different characters involved during the games. We can see the umpire on the right of the vase, naked and with a whip in his hand, ready to punish any athletes who cheated. The lower bodied athlete signals submission to the umpire, who then forwards the submission to the hellanodikai. The hellanodikai, on the left of the vase, wears a robe, which would have been purple, and a crown to signify his more honourable roll.
The five days of the Olympics each had their own special event; the first included the athletes and hellanodikai swearing an oath of honesty and sportsmanship before the statue of Zeus, an unbreakable promise. The second day hosted the horse races and the pentathlon, consisting of discus, the long jump, javelin, running and wrestling, all went on in one afternoon. The third day saw a more religious side to the Olympics; rites for the hero Pelops were given, a procession of all participants, hellanodikai and ambassadors of the different cities took place, and a sacrifice of a hundred cows was given to Zeus.
The fourth day was for the running and combat sports, including wrestling, boxing and pankration, which was a sport that combined both the rules of wrestling and boxing. In contrast to the Pythian Games at Delphi, musical events were never added to the Olympic Games. Victors in any of the contests received a crown of leaves as a symbolic prize for their achievements, and would most likely gain a financial prize from their hometown if they returned champions.
The Games at Delphi also did not allow women to compete, which differs from Olympia, as although women did not compete or watch the Olympic Games, due to the nakedness of the men competing, another set of games was hosted in honour of the goddess Hera, Zeus sister and wife, these games were called the Heraia. The Heraia also took place every four years and were organized by sixteen married Grecian women. Only unmarried women could take place, and unlike their male counterparts, the women competed dressed in a knee-length tunic, which left their right shoulder and breast bear.
The main event was the running of the stadion, and the winner received an olive crown and the chance to put a portrait of herself up in the Temple of Hera. In contrast to Olympia, although Delphi had its Pythian Games, its’ main and most famous attraction was its oracle. Sitting on a tripod inside the Temple of Apollo, many people would travel great distances to ask of their future. According to early legends, the site was originally a sacred place of the Goddess of the Earth, Gaia, and was guarded by her daughter Python.
It is said that Apollo defeated the serpent ‘Python’ and where is said to be the exact place that he killed Python, is said to have been placed an omphalos stone that was set in the ground. Drenched in guilt, Apollo sought after Pan, the goat-god, and persuaded him to reveal the art of prophecy. Apollo then erected his own temple and proceeded to speak through Pythia, the priestess, in verse that was then translated by the priests of the temple. Emperors and leaders of armies would come to her to ask what lies ahead for their army’s longevity, its’ successes and failures.
One of the most famous prophecies given by the oracle was to King Croesus, who asked if it would be wise for him to go to war with the Persians. The oracle replied that a great kingdom would be destroyed if he went to battle. The King thought this meant that Persia would fall and so engaged his attack; little did he know that he would be the defeated, and it was his own great kingdom that was doomed to fall. Delphi was also known in ancient Greek times as the centre of the world, marked out by the omphalos stone, which is known as the navel of the universe.
Legend said that Zeus had set off two eagles from either side of the earth, which after a great flight, eventually met at Delphi, proving that Delphi was the centre of the world. Although Olympia was most famous for its magnificent Olympic Games, it also prized itself on its phenomenal Temple of Zeus. Dubbed one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the gold and ivory statue created by Phidias stood thirteen metres high. The actual temple itself took ten years to build and was finally completed in 456 BC.
The temple itself was made from a local conglomerate stone and was covered in stucco to make it appear white and made of marble. However it was only the roof that was made of Pentellic marble imported from the quarries in Athens. The funding of the construction of the temple came from spoils of war that the people of Olympia had gained through hostilities with neighbouring communities. It has massive columns stand ten metres high, with a two metre diameter. Unfortunately in the sixth century AD a massive earthquake destroyed the temple and it now lies in ruins.
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