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Nineteenth-Century Greece

The Olympic Games were revived in 1896. Leading up to that event, Europe and the United States struggled with colonial and civil wars that drained spirits and coffers.

A Revolt and a Rebirth

The Greek people began a successful revolt against the Ottoman Empire on March 25, 1821, seventy-five years before the first modern Olym¬piad. As the revolution progressed, more and more Greek territories joined the struggle. Greece was con¬sumed with reclaiming its territories and reestablishing a cultural identity during the remainder of the nineteenth century.

After the revolution, Greece established its first government with help from the Diaspora (Greeks living abroad). Nafplion, in the Peloponnese, was named the first capital of Greece. However, on September 18, 1838, Athens was chosen to replace Nafplion as the capital. As a result, many people moved to Athens, inflating the population to 63,374 by 1879.

As the new state emerged, interest in ancient Greek culture grew. Many Western intellectual movements of the nineteenth century looked to antiquity for inspiration. Science, literature, art, and architecture often reflected ideas found in millennia-old writings. In Olympia, archaeologists excavated ancient sites, fueling a constant stream of publications that examined these efforts.

As a young country, Greece relied on the major powers of the day—England, France, and Russia— for political support. With many of the Greek-speaking territories still under foreign rule, Greece fought a perpetual battle in the trenches and diplomatic salons. The national treasuries were empty and the people were exhausted by war. In the midst of all this came the Olympic Games.

Ancient Games for Modern Times

Amid war and politics, not many would have imagined the success of an international athletic movement. Yet, one man envisioned exactly this. Pierre de Coubertin, a French educator, sought ways to offset the negative effects of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Like many intellectuals of his time, he looked to antiquity for inspiration. He found it in the athletic games of ancient Greece, and brought that tradition back to life by organizing the first modern Olympic Games.

The first session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was held in Paris on June 23-24, 1894. The committee selected Athens to host the games of the first Olympiad.

Greece hesitated to accept the offer. The games would likely bring positive publicity to the young country and an opportunity to draw strength from the ancient, glorious past. However, leaders feared an overwhelming financial commitment. Greece eventually agreed to the offer despite these concerns and asked the wealthy Diaspora to contribute funds.

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