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by Archaeology Newsroom

Four panhellenic sanctuaries

The Panhellenic festivals offered the ancient Greeks the opportunity to express their unity in origin, tradition and language. These feasts and games took place in four major sanctuaries, commemorating past achievements of heroes and of the illustrious dead. Thus, in Delphi the myth of Apollo who slew the dragon Python – symbol of a prehistoric earth deity, was the nucleus of the festivities, in Nemea the games honored the dead royal child Ophelites or, according to another version, Hercules. In Isthmia the hero honoured was Melikertes, while in Olympia the athletic games commemorated the victory of Pelops over the old King Oenomaos. Periods of peace were proclaimed throughout the country to facilitate the gathering of Greeks in these four sanctuaries. Each Panhellenic feast had a distinct character; in Delphi, for example, the peaceful noble spirit of Apollo, patron of the arts, presided while in Olympia the games were held under the auspices of Zeus, the potent father of gods, so that mind and body were trained and exercised in the use of weapons, a means of vital importance for ruling. The symbolism and ethics of the Greek ideal served later as a substitute for the funeral character of the games. Thus, the Olympic Games stood for the cult of physical and mental effort and of noble competition that led to virtue and perfection.