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Battle of Olympia Area Today

A map of the area around the battle positions

Battle of Olympia summary

We all know that during the Olympic Games the Greeks held a truce and no fighting was allowed. But in one occasion the Greeks not only fought during the Games but they did so in Olympia proper at the same time the games took place!

  1. The ancient city of Olympia was part of Elis, or Eleia. It was responsible for the Olympic Games but another nearby city, Pisa, claimed it had ancestral rights to holding the Games. Pisa was an ally of the newly formed powerful Arcadian League and with Arcadian help took over organization of the Games for the year 364 BCE. The Games commenced and the contests of riding and running were already completed when the Army of Elis violated the truce and entered the sacred ground of the stadium.
  2. It was the time of the Pentathlon contests and the athletes were forced to stop their fighting to watch a battle. The soldiers of Elis reinforced with Achaeans attacked and fought bravely for their ancestral rights (and the rich commercial rights the masters of the Games enjoyed).
  3. Arcadians and their Argive allies were forced to retreat while the Olympic Games spectators had turned to the battle and cheered acts of bravery from both sides.
  4. Elis soldiers passed next to the stadium and fighting continued in the various buildings and temporary merchant stands nearby.
  5. Athenian cavalry arrived to help the Arcadians but they could not maneuver effectively around the buildings.
  6. All of Elis commanders were killed in battle and having no specific battle plan the exhausted Elis troops finally retreated.
  7. The next day Elis forced appeared again at the sacred ground but their enemies expected them ready for battle.
  8. Seeing the Arcadians protected by large wooden shields and temporary barricades the Elians withdrew without a fight.