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Stadium at ancient Olympia.

An Olympiad (Greek: Ὀλυμπιάς, olympiás) is a period of four years associated with the Olympic Games of the Ancient Greeks. During the Hellenistic period, beginning with Ephorus, it was used as a calendar epoch. By this reckoning, the first Olympiad lasted from the summer of 776 BC to that of 772 BC. By extrapolation of these dates to the Gregorian calendar, the beginning of the first year, i.e. year 0 of the 699th Olympiad would be/have been dated in the (Northern Hemisphere) summer of 2016.

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).

Ancient Olympics[edit]

An Olympiad was a period of four years, e.g.: Olympiad 140; 1st year = 220/219 BC, 2nd year = 219/218 BC, 3rd year = 218/217 BC, 4th year = 217/216 BC.


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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]

Examples of Ancient Olympiad dates[edit]

A relief of the Greek Olympiad.
  • 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".[5]
  • Dionysius of Halicarnassus dates the foundation of Rome to 752 BC: "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."[6]
  • 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."[7]
  • 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.[8]

Start of the Olympiad[edit]

An Olympiad started with the games, which were held at the beginning of the Olympic new year, which was on the full moon closest to the summer solstice. (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[edit]

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.

Modern Olympics[edit]

Olympiad start date end date host of the Games of the Olympiad
I (1st) 6 Apr 1896 14 May 1900 Athens Flag of Greece (1822-1978).svg Greece
II (2nd) 14 May 1900 14 May 1904 Paris  France
III (3rd) 14 May 1904 13 Jul 1908 St. Louis US flag 45 stars.svg United States
IV (4th) 13 Jul 1908 6 Jul 1912 London  Britain
V (5th) 6 Jul 1912 1 Jul 1916 Stockholm  Sweden
VI (6th) 1 Jul 1916 14 Aug 1920 not celebrated (plan Berlin German Empire Germany)
VII (7th) 14 Aug 1920 5 Jul 1924 Antwerp  Belgium
VIII (8th) 5 Jul 1924 28 Jul 1928 Paris  France
IX (9th) 28 Jul 1928 30 Jul 1932 Amsterdam  Netherlands
X (10th) 30 Jul 1932 1 Aug 1936 Los Angeles US flag 48 stars.svg United States
XI (11th) 1 Aug 1936 20 Jul 1940 Berlin Nazi Germany Germany
XII (12th) 20 Jul 1940 17 Jun 1944 not celebrated (plan Tokyo
 then Helsinki
XIII (13th) 17 Jun 1944 29 Jul 1948 not celebrated (plan London  Britain)
XIV (14th) 29 Jul 1948 19 Jul 1952 London  Britain
XV (15th) 19 Jul 1952 22 Nov 1956 Helsinki  Finland
XVI (16th) 22 Nov 1956 25 Aug 1960 Melbourne  Australia
XVII (17th) 25 Aug 1960 10 Oct 1964 Rome  Italy
XVIII (18th) 10 Oct 1964 12 Oct 1968 Tokyo  Japan
XIX (19th) 12 Oct 1968 26 Aug 1972 City of Mexico  Mexico
XX (20th) 26 Aug 1972 17 Jul 1976 Munich  Germany
XXI (21st) 17 Jul 1976 19 Jul 1980 Montreal  Canada
XXII (22nd) 19 Jul 1980 28 Jul 1984 Moscow  Soviet Union (now  Russia)
XXIII (23rd) 28 Jul 1984 17 Sep 1988 Los Angeles  United States
XXIV (24th) 17 Sep 1988 25 Jul 1992 Seoul Korea Korea
XXV (25th) 25 Jul 1992 19 Jul 1996 Barcelona  Spain
XXVI (26th) 19 Jul 1996 15 Sep 2000 Atlanta  United States
XXVII (27th) 15 Sep 2000 13 Aug 2004 Sydney  Australia
XXVIII (28th) 13 Aug 2004 8 Aug 2008 Athens  Greece
XXIX (29th) 8 Aug 2008 27 Jul 2012 Beijing  China
XXX (30th) 27 Jul 2012 5 Aug 2016 London  Britain
XXXI (31st) 5 Aug 2016 24 Jul 2020 Rio de Janeiro  Brazil
XXXII (32nd) 24 Jul 2020
Tokyo  Japan
XXXIII (33rd)
to be decided
XXXIV (34th)
to be decided

For the modern Olympic Games the term was long and falsely used to indicate the games themselves, although it indicates a period of four years.

Start and end[edit]

The modern Olympiad is a period of four years, beginning on the opening of the Olympic Games (in summer sports) and ending on the opening of the next Olympic Games (summer). The Olympiads are numbered consecutively from the first Games of the Olympiad celebrated in Athens in 1896. The XXXI Olympiad began on 5 Aug, 2016 and will end on 24 Jul, 2020.[9]

Thus, the Olympic Games in summer sports are the Games of the Olympiad. The first poster to announce the games using this term was the one for the Olympic Summer Games 1932 in Los Angeles, using the phrase: Call to the Games of the Xth Olympiad ("Xth" should have been e X).

Note, however, that the official numbering of the Olympic Winter Games does not count Olympiads—- it counts only the Games themselves. For example:

  • The first Olympic Winter Games 1924 in Chamonix were hold in the near end of the VII Olympiad, but were not designated as "Winter Games of the VII Olympiad", but as the I Olympic Winter Games.
  • The Olympic Summer Games 1936 were the Games of the XI Olympiad. After the 1940 and 1944 Olympic Summer Games were canceled due to World War II, the Games resumed in 1948 as the Games of the XIV Olympiad.
  • However, the Olympic Winter Games 1936 were the IV Olympic Winter Games and the resumption of the Olympic Winter Games in 1948 was designated the V Olympic Winter Games.[10]
  • The last Olympic Winter Games, which were hold in the same year as the Olympic Summer Games, the XVI Olympic Winter Games 1992 in Barcelona were dated in the near end of the XXIV Olympiad. Instead the first Olympic Winter Games, which were hold in a different year from the Olympic Summer Games, the XVII Olympic Winter Games 1994 in Lillehammer were dated around in the middle of the XXV Olympiad.

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.[11] 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.


The U.S. Olympic Committee often uses 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 the 2001–2004 Quadrennium would then not be exactly the same period as the XXVIIth Olympiad.[12]

Cultural Olympiad[edit]

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 2012 London Olympics included an extensive Cultural Olympiad with the London 2012 Festival. Cultural events occurred across the British Isles. A major event was the World Shakespeare Festival produced by the RSC and including the Globe to Globe Festival.


At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Cultural Olympiad presented the Cultural Olympiad Digital Edition (or CODE for short). Conforming with the tag-line "Connect.Create.Collaborate.", the festival brought both national and international artists to present digital art, music, and cinema.

Other uses[edit]

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).[13] 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 and Computer Olympiad. In these cases Olympiad is used to indicate a regular event of international competition; it does not necessarily indicate a four-year period.

In some languages, like Czech and Slovak, Olympiad (Czech: olympiáda) is the correct term for the games.

The Olympiad (L'Olimpiade) is also the name of some 60 operas set in Ancient Greece.


  1. ^ Bickerman 1980, p. 75.
  2. ^ Bickerman 1980, p. 88.
  3. ^ Photius, Bibliotheca, Terlullian, p. 97 .
  4. ^ Eusebius, Chronicle, Attalus, p. 193 .
  5. ^ Thucydides, 3.8.1 History of the Peloponnesian War Check |url= value (help), Tufts .
  6. ^ of Halicarnassus, Dionysius, Roman Antiquities, University of Chicago, 1.75 .
  7. ^ Siculus, Diodorus, Historical Library, University of Chicago, 11.1.2 .
  8. ^ Jerome, Chronological Tables, Attalus, year 2015 .
  9. ^ Olympic Charter - Bye-law to Rule 6
  10. ^ Team USA: Olympic Games Chronology.
  11. ^ 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'. 
  12. ^ USOC Quadrennial Congressional Report, June 2009.
  13. ^ 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 0-8014-1282-X 

External links[edit]