What was the oldest Olympic sport?

The Olympics are old. The first ancient Greek Olympic game may have been held in 776 BC in the Greek city of Olympia. Almost 1,200 years later, when Greece was being Christianized, Theodosius I decided that the Olympics would not be played any more, so the last games of the original series was probably in 394 AD. These games had their own origin myth, and according to that myth, the first event was a race between two gods.

Apparently, the first actual (as in non-mythical) game was a race among women to decide who would be the Priestess for the goddess Hera. Later, a race was added for men to see who would become the consort for the local priestess. So, the earliest Olympics included foot races and the prize was sometimes one's role in a sexual liaison. This, I assume, is where the phrase "racy" comes form.

The games changed from these early days to be a race among men, and in 720 the rule was established that the athletes would not wear clothing. Still with the racy. Eventually, other games were added but clothing was not.

Revival Olympic games were held in France in the late 18th century and in England in the mid nineteenth century. Greek revivals were held throughout the 19th century as well. The current reign of Olympic games, administered by the International Olympic Committee, was held in 1896. The history of the games since then is fairly remarkable, with frequent interesting political events, boycotts, and so on as well as, well, lots of sports stuff if you are into that.

Long long before the Greeks started with their (now considered) ancient nudist Olympic racy races, there was another sort of game played in a civilization that preceded the Greeks, in nearby Crete. The Minoans (and probably the Mycenaeans) had various traditions that had to do with bulls. This is not surprising given the importance of cattle in the Mediterranean. Among those traditions was the Minoan Minotaur. And among the earliest art in the region are dramatic depictions of the ancient art of Bull Jumping.

Here's a picture from an ancient text with the title, roughly translated, "Bull Jumping for Dummies" ...

This makes one wonder if the pummel horse and the typical floor routine, and possibly even the suspended rings, ultimately derive from this ancient Minoan past-time.


The continuity between Minoan and Greek hardly needs to be argued for. Bull jumping is still practiced today, though the bulls are smaller and the jumpers larger, of course.


Personally, I'd love to see the return of bull jumping to the Olympics, to complement the pummel horse. Presumably, in a modern, civilized version of the game, the bulls would be well cared for and properly trained and not killed or eaten as part of the medal ceremony.

Additional Information:

Modern Sports and Games of Ancient Greece
Bull Jumping
Minoan Fresco - Bull Leaping
Minoan Fresco - More on Bull Leaping

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Growing up, spending my summers at the grandparent's farm, we kids occasionally tried to jump over a cow- albeit from the side, and without a fancy flip. The only prize was not getting yelled at by grandma. The cows didn't seem to care one way or the other.

It's POMMEL Horse