1896 Olympic Games – Athens

Date Held:                         April 6-15, 1896
Number of Countries:     14
Number of Athletes:       241
Number of Events:          43

At the Congress held in 1894, Athens had been selected as the city to host the first games of the Modern Olympics and a Greek, Demetrius Vikelas, had been elected as the first president of the International Olympic Committee. However, even with the decision made there was still a lot of trouble pulling off the games and no one was sure it would be successful at the time. As is the case again today, the Greek government was in political and financial turmoil and the cost of the games was quickly piling up. The Prime Minister and the President of the Greek Olympic Committee were ready to call off the games for lack of funding, but Coubertin, Vikelas, and the Crown Prince of Greece all joined together to promote a fundraising campaign that raised all the money needed and secure the Games.


At the opening ceremony over 80,000 people were on hand to see the Opening Ceremonies, which at the time did not involve the Olympic flame or much of the pageantry we see today, but did include dignitaries and musical entertainment.

Over the next week events were held in Athletics, Cycling, Fencing, Gymnastics, Shooting, Swimming, Tennis, Weightlifting, and Wrestling and all competing athletes had to meet the status of amateurs (except for fencing where professionals were allowed to compete in their own division) and the rules for events were set by the IOC since each country’s athletic organization typically used different rules. Many events had been proposed at the initial Congress on the Games, but were never finalized, although Rowing and Yachting were scheduled, but not run due to bad weather conditions.

At the 1896 Athens Games the US won the most “Gold Medals”, while Greece itself took the overall win in the medal count. German wrestler and gymnast Carl Schumann won the most medals at the Games. While first place winners at the games are recognized as Gold Medal winners, in fact the medal for first place at the 1896 Athens games was made of silver, with a copper medal given to second place. Winners were also presented with an olive branch and a diploma.

Of all the athletes and events at the Games the Greek fans were most interested in the marathon, which was won by Spyridon Louis who became a national hero for his accomplishment.

Links to artifact pages for the 1896 Athens Olympics:

Winner’s Medals | Participation Medal | Poster | Diploma | Badges

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

While the Olympics is obviously an international affair, Thanksgiving is decidedly very American ( sort of by its nature ). At any rate, I’ll be away with family until Monday but here’s a blog post in the mean time.

I was trying to find some funny anecdote about a connection of the Olympics and Thanksgiving to feature in this post, but nothing interesting seemed to turn up besides an article about recent Olympians in a Thanksgiving parade.

On a more Olympic artifact related note I did find an Atlanta Olympic pic from 1995 celebrating Thanksgiving and only 239 days until the games started in 1996. It’s actually a pretty cool pic in terms of colors and I’d say somewhat unique as well, and considering we’re not having an Olympics in North America in the near future probably the last Thanksgiving pin we’ll have a chance at for a while.

I hope you’re all gold medal winners at your Thanksgiving tables and family football games, or if you’re more like me a couch potato and football watching champion!

Pierre de Courbertin

Born into the French aristocracy in 1863, Pierre de Coubertin could have chosen most any path for his career from politics to high ranking military positions, but chose to pursue learning and intellectual pursuits. During the late 19th century higher education was still heavily focused on Classical learning ( Greek and Roman culture ) and Baron de Coubertin was influenced and inspired by the Ancient Olympics and the idea that athletic competition between nations could breed familiarity and respect that would create a more peaceful world. Coubertin believed that trying was more important than winning and tried to place the importance of the events on the competition and less on the results.

While there were smaller “Olympic” style games hosted in Greece and England, but they were not international competitions that we would recognize as Olympics. Coubertin started working on organizing a Congress in 1888 and it was held in 1894 in Paris. At the Congress the attendees worked to organize the revival of the Olympics, its philosophy, and how it should function. The International Olympic Committee was formed later but as a result of the events of the Congress and Coubertin would be the second President of the IOC after Demetrius Vikelas, a Greek member who pushed for the 1896 games to be held in Athens.

Coubertin would head the IOC as President until 1924 by which time it had come to be a successful and popular movement. Coubertin won a gold medal for literature at the 1912 Games in Antwerp for his poem Ode to Sport. The highest honor that can be bestowed by the IOC is known as the Coubertin Medal and is given to “those athletes that demonstrate the spirit of sportsmanship in the Olympic Games”

The Ancient Olympic Games

The Ancient Olympic Games were held starting in 776 BC according to historical records and we held continuously until 394 AD ( a span of 1,170 years! ) when the Roman Emperor had them stopped because the celebration of the Greek Gods was viewed as heretical to Christianity which had become the official religion of Rome. Many of the features of the Modern Olympics (started in 1896) were inspired or taken from the traditions of the Greek games. For example the Ancient Games were held every four years, the city-states participating enacted a truce during the games, and victory was a sign of national pride and power.

Stadium at Olympia today

The Ancient Olympics were held in the city of Olympia and celebrated the Greek Gods, primarily Zeus, buy others to some extent as well. Events at the Ancient Games included pentathlon ( 3 footraces of different distances, a long jump, and discus), wrestling, boxing, pankration ( mixed martial art of boxing and wrestling), and equestrian events such as chariot races and horse races.


statue known as the Discobolus

Any free male Greek citizen was allowed to participate in the Games and athletes competed nude in the Greek tradition. Married women were not allowed to attend or watch, but single women could.

It was the history and spirit of these Olympic Games that inspired Pierre de Coubertin to found and father the Modern Olympic movement. Baron de Coubertin will be the subject of the next blog post and then I’ll get into the first Modern Olympics in Athens after that.

Artifacts related to the Ancient Greek Olympics are obviously very rare and typically are regulated by the Greek government as part of its cultural heritage. These items are typically found in museums and other historical institutions. Some types of items from the ancient games include coins, statues, and ceramics.

I’m starting a blog for Olympic Artifacts!

Good news to anyone that uses the site, I’m starting a new blog on the site to add content, thoughts, events, and other information on a (hopefully) daily basis. For the immediate future this will probably involve a daily post on each Olympics starting in 1896. I’m hoping to include in each post some historical context, interesting trivia and tidbits, and images as well as fun facts about the medals or other artifacts from that particular Olympics.

I’ll also add posts as time goes along to keep track of progress on deciding new Olympics, auctions, shows, or other collecting groups. I’m hoping this blog catches on and provides some content that will be able to give you a reason to keep coming back. If you like the site, please feel free to let me know!