[uh-lim-pee-ad, oh-lim-]
Olympiad, unit of a chronological era of ancient Greece, a four-year period, each one beginning with the Olympic games. Timaeus (c.356-c.260 B.C.) of Sicily was the first to use, as a check on chronology, the list of victors kept in the gymnasium at Olympia. The first Olympiad was reckoned to have begun in 776 B.C.
An Olympiad is a period of four years, associated with the Olympic Games of Classical Greece. In the Hellenistic period, beginning with Ephorus, Olympiads were used as calendar epoch. In this reckoning, the first Olympiad lasted from the summer of 776 BC to that of 772 BC. By extrapolation, the

|0 = 1st |1 = 2nd |2 = 3rd |3 = 4th }} year of the +779)/4 -.5)round 0}}th Olympiad begins in summer .

Today, an Olympiad refers to a period beginning January 1 of a year in which the Summer Olympics are due to occur, and lasting four years. The first modern Olympiad began in 1896, the second began in 1900, and so on. The 29th began in 2008 (see the Olympic Charter).

Ancient Olympics

An Olympiad, especially in ancient literature, was a period of four years (Polybius, Example: OL 1 - Yr. 1 - 776/775, Yr. 2 - 775/774, Yr. 3 - 774/773, Yr. 4 - 773/772

Example for AUC: OL 6 - Yr. 1 - 756/755, Yr. 2 - 755/754, Yr. 3 - 754/753, Yr. 4 - 753/752


From 776 BC Olympic Games were presumably held without fail. Greek historians used 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. Nevertheless, since for events in the early history of the games the reckoning was used in retrospect, even though Greek historians gave them dates later, it is not clear which events occurred during which Olympiad. See Ancient Olympics.

Start of the Olympiad

An Olympiad started with the games, which were held at the beginning of the Olympic new year, which fell 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 Olympic games were held before Coroebus, his is the first Olympiad recorded. Therefore the reckoning in Olympiads starts in 776 BC. In the third century AD the games had dwindled to the point where historians are not certain whether after 261 they were still held every four years. During the early years of the Olympiad, any physical benefit coming out of a sport was banned. Some winners were recorded though, until the last Olympiad in 393. 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 fifth century AD reckoning in Olympiads had fallen into disuse.


  • 776/775 (BC) First year of the First Olympiad.
  • 775/774 Second year of the First Olympiad.
  • 774/773 Third year of the First Olympiad.
  • 773/772 Fourth year of the First Olympiad.
  • 772/771 First year of the Second Olympiad.
  • 771/770 Second year of the Second Olympiad.


  • 2/1 (BC) Third year of the 194th Olympiad.
  • 1/1 (1 BC - 1 AD) Fourth year of the 194th Olympiad.
  • 1/2 (AD) 1st year of the 195th Olympiad.
  • 2/3 2nd year of the 195th Olympiad.


  • 393/394 1st year of the 293rd Olympiad.
  • 394/395 2nd year of the 293rd Olympiad.

By extrapolation:


Though the games were held without interruption, on more than one occasion they were celebrated by others than the Eleiäns. The Eleiäns declared such games Anolympiads (non-Olympics), but it is assumed the winners nevertheless were recorded.

Modern Olympics

For the modern Olympics the term was long used to indicate the games themselves, but the IOC now uses it to indicate a period of four years.

Start and end

The modern Olympiad starts with the celebration of the Olympiad. These are the Summer Olympics, more correctly indicated as the Games of the Olympiad. The first poster to announce the games using this term was the one for the 1932 Summer Olympics, in Los Angeles, using the phrase: Call to the games of the Xth Olympiad

An Olympiad normally ends with the opening of the games of the next Olympiad, which may be slightly less or slightly more than four years. If for some reason the next Olympiad is not celebrated, the olympiad expires exactly four years after its beginning, after which the new Olympiad commences.


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 end 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 the exact same period as the XXVIIth Olympiad.

Cultural Olympiad

A celebration known as the Cultural Olympiad was established to include all cultural events of the Olympic Movement. This Olympiad is a period most recently held in Athens from 2001-2004, where artists from around the world come and exhibit their art.

Other uses

Outside the IOC the term is still often used to indicate the games themselves, a usage that is strictly erroneous (as an Olympiad is the time period between games) but widely accepted nevertheless. It is also used to indicate international competitions in fields other than physical sports. This includes international science olympiads, such as the International Mathematical Olympiad and the International Olympiad in Informatics, but also events in mindsports, 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.

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

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