The ancient Olympic Games continued almost without interruption from the date assigned to their official inception, 776 BC, until an official shutdown was ordered towards the end of the fourth century AD. Coming under Roman control in the second century BC, the sanctuary was considerably ‘upgraded’ in terms of its facilities: many of the ruins now visible belong to the Roman era, and some may be credited to particular benefactors, such as the emperor Nero. Prior to these improvements, however, Olympia was indeed a testing destination. For centuries athletes and spectators simply camped at the site and endured its inhospitable surrounds. True, it was well watered by two rivers; but Olympia is also a place that gets oppressively hot and humid in high summer (when the quadrennial festival was held), and the area became malarial as the rivers silted up. A microclimate favouring spectacular thunderstorms encouraged the cult of Zeus at the site, from the Bronze Age onwards. Originally there may have been some kind of festival involving horses and other domesticated animals, but the sporting contests that became part of this cult were not intended to be ‘fun’. In Greek these contests were agones, and it is no accident that we derive our ‘agony’ from this word. Herakles was by one tradition credited with pacing out the stadium at Olympia and with instituting contests of strength and combat: it is worth remembering that Herakles was obliged to perform twelve ‘Labours’ as penitence to a king, and that these trials of body and spirit were called athla. In this sense every ‘athlete’ was, like Herakles, trying to redeem his mortal state by going through the ‘agonies’ of hard training and harsh competition.