An Olympiad (Greek: Ὀλυμπιάς, Olympiás) is a period of four years associated with the Olympic Games of the Ancient Greeks. Although the Ancient Olympic Games were established during Archaic Greece, it was not until the Hellenistic period, beginning with Ephorus, that the Olympiad was used as a calendar epoch. Converting to the modern BC/AD dating system the first Olympiad began in the summer of 776 BC and lasted until the summer of 772 BC, when the second Olympiad would begin with the commencement of the next games. By extrapolation to the Julian calendar, the 3rd year of the 699th Olympiad began in (Northern-Hemisphere) mid-summer 2019.
A modern Olympiad refers to a four-year period beginning on the opening of the Olympic Games for the summer sports. The first modern Olympiad began in 1896, the second in 1900, and so on (the 31st began in 2016: see the Olympic Charter).
The ancient and modern Olympiads would have synchronised had there been a year zero between the Olympiad of 4 BC and the one of 4 AD. But as the Julian calendar goes directly from 1 BC to 1 AD, the ancient Olympic cycle now lags the modern cycle by one year.
An ancient Olympiad was a period of four years grouped together, counting inclusively as the ancients did. Each ancient Olympic year overlapped onto two of our modern reckoning of BC or AD years, from midsummer to midsummer. Example: Olympiad 140, year 1 = 220/219 BC; year 2 = 219/218 BC; year 3 = 218/217 BC; year 4 = 217/216 BC. Therefore, the games would have been held in July/August of 220 BC and held the next time in July/August of 216 BC, after four olympic years had been completed.
The sophist Hippias was the first writer to publish a list of victors of the Olympic Games, and by the time of Eratosthenes, it was generally agreed that the first Olympic games had happened during the summer of 776 BC. The combination of victor lists and calculations from 776 BC onwards enabled Greek historians to use the Olympiads as a way of reckoning time that did not depend on the time reckonings of one of the city-states. (See Attic calendar.) The first to do so consistently was Timaeus of Tauromenium in the third century BC. Nevertheless, since for events of the early history of the games the reckoning was used in retrospect, some of the dates given by later historian for events before the 5th century BC are very unreliable. In the 2nd century AD, Phlegon of Tralles summarised the events of each Olympiad in a book called Olympiads, and an extract from this has been preserved by the Byzantine writer Photius. Christian chroniclers continued to use this Greek system of dating as a way of synchronising biblical events with Greek and Roman history. In the 3rd century AD, Sextus Julius Africanus compiled a list of Olympic victors up to 217 BC, and this list has been preserved in the Chronicle of Eusebius.
Examples of Ancient Olympiad dates
- Early historians sometimes used the names of Olympic victors as a method of dating events to a specific year. For instance, Thucydides says in his account of the year 428 BC: "It was the Olympiad in which the Rhodian Dorieus gained his second victory".
- Dionysius of Halicarnassus dates the foundation of Rome to the first year of the seventh Olympiad, 752/1 BC. Since Rome was founded on April 21, which was in the last half of the ancient Olympic year, it would be 751 BC specifically. In Book 1 chapter 75 Dionysius states: "...Romulus, the first ruler of the city, began his reign in the first year of the seventh Olympiad, when Charops at Athens was in the first year of his ten-year term as archon."
- Diodorus Siculus dates the Persian invasion of Greece to 480 BC: "Calliades was archon in Athens, and the Romans made Spurius Cassius and Proculus Verginius Tricostus consuls, and the Eleians celebrated the Seventy-fifth Olympiad, that in which Astylus of Syracuse won the stadion. It was in this year that king Xerxes made his campaign against Greece."
- Jerome, in his Latin translation of the Chronicle of Eusebius, dates the birth of Jesus Christ to year 3 of Olympiad 194, the 42nd year of the reign of the emperor Augustus, which equates to the year 2 BC.
Start of the Olympiad
An Olympiad started with the holding of the games, which occurred on the first or second full moon after the summer solstice, in what we call July or August. The games were therefore essentially a new years festival. In 776 BC this occurred on either July 23 or August 21. (After the introduction of the Metonic cycle about 432 BC, the start of the Olympic year was determined slightly differently).
Though the games were held without interruption, on more than one occasion they were held by others than the Eleians. The Eleians declared such games Anolympiads (non-Olympics), but it is assumed the winners were nevertheless recorded.
End of the era
During the 3rd century AD, records of the games are so scanty that historians are not certain whether after 261 they were still held every four years. During the early years of the Olympiad, any physical benefit deriving from a sport was banned. Some winners were recorded though, until the last Olympiad of 393AD. In 394, Roman Emperor Theodosius I outlawed the games at Olympia as pagan. Though it would have been possible to continue the reckoning by just counting four-year periods, by the middle of the 5th century AD reckoning by Olympiads had become disused.
|Olympiad||Start date||End date||Host of the Games of the Olympiad|
|I||(1st)||6 Apr 1896||14 May 1900||Athens|
|II||(2nd)||14 May 1900||1 Jul 1904||Paris|
|III||(3rd)||1 Jul 1904||13 Jul 1908||St. Louis|
|IV||(4th)||13 Jul 1908||6 Jul 1912||London|
|V||(5th)||6 Jul 1912||1 Jul 1916||Stockholm|
|VI||(6th)||1 Jul 1916||14 Aug 1920||not celebrated||(plan Berlin|
|VII||(7th)||14 Aug 1920||5 Jul 1924||Antwerp|
|VIII||(8th)||5 Jul 1924||28 Jul 1928||Paris|
|IX||(9th)||28 Jul 1928||30 Jul 1932||Amsterdam|
|X||(10th)||30 Jul 1932||1 Aug 1936||Los Angeles|
|XI||(11th)||1 Aug 1936||20 Jul 1940||Berlin|
|XII||(12th)||20 Jul 1940||17 Jun 1944||not celebrated|| (plan Tokyo|
|XIII||(13th)||17 Jun 1944||29 Jul 1948||not celebrated||(plan London|
|XIV||(14th)||29 Jul 1948||19 Jul 1952||London|
|XV||(15th)||19 Jul 1952||22 Nov 1956||Helsinki|
|XVI||(16th)||22 Nov 1956||25 Aug 1960||Melbourne|
|XVII||(17th)||25 Aug 1960||10 Oct 1964||Rome|
|XVIII||(18th)||10 Oct 1964||12 Oct 1968||Tokyo|
|XIX||(19th)||12 Oct 1968||26 Aug 1972||City of Mexico|
|XX||(20th)||26 Aug 1972||17 Jul 1976||Munich|
|XXI||(21st)||17 Jul 1976||19 Jul 1980||Montreal|
|XXII||(22nd)||19 Jul 1980||28 Jul 1984||Moscow|
|XXIII||(23rd)||28 Jul 1984||17 Sep 1988||Los Angeles|
|XXIV||(24th)||17 Sep 1988||25 Jul 1992||Seoul|
|XXV||(25th)||25 Jul 1992||19 Jul 1996||Barcelona|
|XXVI||(26th)||19 Jul 1996||15 Sep 2000||Atlanta|
|XXVII||(27th)||15 Sep 2000||13 Aug 2004||Sydney|
|XXVIII||(28th)||13 Aug 2004||8 Aug 2008||Athens|
|XXIX||(29th)||8 Aug 2008||27 Jul 2012||Beijing|
|XXX||(30th)||27 Jul 2012||5 Aug 2016||London|
|XXXI||(31st)||5 Aug 2016||24 Jul 2020||Rio de Janeiro|
|XXXII||(32nd)||24 Jul 2020||26 Jul 2024||Tokyo|
|XXXIII||(33rd)||26 Jul 2024||21 Jul 2028||Paris|
|XXXIV||(34th)||21 Jul 2028||Los Angeles|
Start and end
The modern Olympiad is a period of four years, beginning at the opening of the Olympic Summer Games and ending at the opening of the next. The Olympiads are numbered consecutively from the first Games of the Olympiad celebrated in Athens in April 1896. The XXXI Olympiad (i.e. 31st) began on August 5, 2016 and will end on July 24, 2020.
The Summer Olympics are more correctly referred to as the Games of the Olympiad. The first poster to announce the games using this term was the one for the 1932 Summer Olympics, in Los Angeles, using the phrase: Call to the games of the Xth Olympiad
Note, however, that the official numbering of the Winter Olympics does not count Olympiads—- it counts only the Games themselves. For example:
- The first Winter Games, in 1924, were not designated as Winter Games of the VII Olympiad, but as the I Winter Olympic Games.
- The 1936 Summer Games were the Games of the XI Olympiad. After the 1940 and 1944 Summer Games were canceled due to World War II, the Games resumed in 1948 as the Games of the XIV Olympiad.
- However, the 1936 Winter Games were the IV Winter Olympic Games, and the resumption of the Winter Games in 1948 was designated the V Winter Olympic Games.
Some media people have from time to time referred to a particular (e.g., the nth) Winter Olympics as "the Games of the nth Winter Olympiad", perhaps believing it to be the correct formal name for the Winter Games by analogy with that of the Summer Games. Indeed, at least one IOC-published article has applied this nomenclature as well. This analogy is sometimes extended further by media references to "Summer Olympiads". However, the IOC does not seem to make an official distinction between Olympiads for the summer and winter games, and such usage particularly for the Winter Olympics is not consistent with the numbering discussed above.
Some Olympic Committees often use the term quadrennium, which it claims refers to the same four-year period. However, it indicates these quadrennia in calendar years, starting with the first year after the Summer Olympics and ending with the year the next Olympics are held. This would suggest a more precise period of four years, but, for example, the 2001–2004 Quadrennium would then not be exactly the same period as the XXVIIth Olympiad.
A Cultural Olympiad is a concept protected by the International Olympic Committee and may be used only within the limits defined by an Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games. From one Games to the next, the scale of the Cultural Olympiad varies considerably, sometimes involving activity over the entire Olympiad and other times emphasizing specific periods within it. Baron Pierre de Coubertin established the principle of Olympic Art Competitions at a special congress in Paris in 1906, and the first official programme was presented during the 1912 Games in Stockholm. These competitions were also named the ‘Pentathlon of the Muses’, as their purpose was to bring artists to present their work and compete for ‘art’ medals across five categories: architecture, music, literature, sculpture and painting.
Nowadays, while there are no competitions as such, cultural and artistic practice is displayed via the Cultural Olympiad. The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver presented the Cultural Olympiad Digital Edition. The 2012 Olympics included an extensive Cultural Olympiad with the London 2012 Festival in the host city, and events elsewhere including the World Shakespeare Festival produced by the RSC. The 2016 games' Cultural Olympiad was scaled back due to Brazil's recession; there was no published programme, with director Carla Camurati promising "secret" and "spontaneous" events such as flash mobs. Cultural events in time for Tokyo 2020 are being planned.
The English term is still often used popularly to indicate the games themselves, a usage that is uncommon in ancient Greek (as an Olympiad is most often the time period between and including sets of games). It is also used to indicate international competitions other than physical sports. This includes international science olympiads, such as the International Geography Olympiad, International Mathematical Olympiad and the International Linguistics Olympiad and their associated national qualifying tests (e.g., the United States of America Mathematical Olympiad or the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad), and also events in mind-sports, such as the Science Olympiad, Mindsport Olympiad, Chess Olympiad, International History Olympiad and Computer Olympiad. In these cases Olympiad is used to indicate a regular event of international competition for top achieving participants; it does not necessarily indicate a four-year period.
- Bickerman 1980, p. 75.
- Bickerman 1980, p. 88.
- Photius, Bibliotheca, Terlullian, p. 97.
- Eusebius, Chronicle, Attalus, p. 193.
- Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, Tufts.
- of Halicarnassus, Dionysius, Roman Antiquities, University of Chicago, 1.75.
- Siculus, Diodorus, Historical Library, University of Chicago, 11.1.2.
- Jerome, Chronological Tables, Attalus, year 2015.
- Olympic Charter - Bye-law to Rule 6
- Team USA: Olympic Games Chronology Archived 2016-08-09 at the Wayback Machine.
- Kendall, Nigel (2011-04-08). "Community Spirit". International Olympic Committee. Retrieved 2011-06-22.
The XXI Winter Olympiad was to be the first 'social media Games'.
- USOC Quadrennial Congressional Report, June 2009 Archived 2011-07-28 at the Wayback Machine.
- "World Shakespeare Festival tickets go on public sale". BBC Online. 10 October 2011. Retrieved 15 August 2017.
- Lang, Kirsty (29 July 2016). "Rio 2016: The 'secret' Cultural Olympiad". BBC Online. Retrieved 15 August 2017.
- Liddell, Scott, and Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon, s.v. Ὀλυμπιάς, A. II. 1
- Bickerman, Elias J (1980), Chronology of the Ancient World (Aspects of Greek & Roman Life) (2nd sub ed.), Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, ISBN 978-0-8014-1282-0
- Encyclopædia Britannica. 20 (11th ed.). 1911. .
- Chris Bennett, The Olympiad System, on tyndalehouse.com
- Valerie Vaughan, The Origin of the Olympics: Ancient Calendars and the Race Against Time (2002) on OneReed.com, an astrologically-oriented site.
- Hellenic Month Established Per Athens,