This week in history we’ll take a look at some particular events that marked the beginnings and ends of eras, conflicts and traditions that are firmly ingrained in our shared culture.
On April 6, 1896, 124 years ago, the first modern Olympic Games took place in Athens, Greece.
The Olympic Games were a staple of ancient Greek society, with the festival long-rooted in Greek heritage and tradition. The first recorded Olympics were held in Olympia in 776 B.C., but historians almost unanimously believe that the competition began 500 years prior. The festival was held every four years to honor the king of the gods, Zeus. Athletes from city-states all across the Greek Empire would be sent to Olympia to compete in the name of their hometown. Foot races, wrestling, discus and javelin throwing, chariot races and the long jump were among the most popular events.
After the fall of the Greek Empire to the Romans, the Olympics stalled and lacked the organization it once had. The festival was outright outlawed in 393 A.D. by Roman Emperor Theodosius I in an effort to promote Christianity and suppress all pagan festivals. It would not be held again until the Renaissance, when a newfound fascination in Greco-Roman culture would bring about an interest in the Games.
A particular fan of the Games was the French baron Pierre de Coubertin. He assembled what would become the International Olympic Committee, advocating for the festival to take place in both 1892 and 1894, before it finally came into fruition in 1896 with 280 participants representing 13 different countries. He would oversee the competition’s organization for the next 30 years while it became the phenomenon it is today.
While there will be no Olympics for the 2020 summer, the Olympics is one of the few events where the entirety of the world can come together and celebrate the best every nation has to offer.
Also on April 6, in 1917, 77 years ago, the United States officially entered World War I.
In the direct opposite of the world coming together, we see the world tearing apart as Americans joined the fight in the First World War on that same day 21 years later. The conflict, known as the Great War, began in 1914; However, it was the opinion of the American people to stay neutral, as it mostly affected European powers and their colonies.
The issue with this neutrality position was trade. The United States was close trading partners with Great Britain, which was a fierce rival of Germany and the Triple Alliance. This immediately made the U.S. a possible threat in the eyes of the Germans.
Tensions heightened in wake of the Zimmermann Telegram, a secret message sent from Germany to Mexico, proposing an alliance between the two powers if the U.S. was to join the British, French and Russians. In addition to this, German submarines torpedoed several American merchant vessels, as well as the RMS Lusitania, a passenger ship carrying U.S. passengers. Since American blood had been spilled, the U.S. government could no longer ignore the conflict, and Congress voted to declare war on Germany.
The conflict would continue until November 1918, becoming the deadliest conflict the world had ever seen. World War I today is largely forgotten, as the mass death and destruction did not solve any of the world’s problems, leading to another world war less than two decades later.
Gino Giansanti is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.