Long before there was an Olympic village, pin trading and official mascots, there were the ancient Olympics. British archaeologist Neil Faulkner’s new book, A Visitor’s Guide To The Ancient Olympics, takes a long look back at how the Games began.

Bill’s thoughts on A Visitor’s Guide to the Ancient Olympics:

Faced with Neil Faulkner’s description of how difficult it was for spectators to get to the Olympics a couple thousand years ago, you’re bound to wonder why they bothered. When they arrived, they ate spoiled food, endured hopelessly crowded conditions and climbed around piles of rubbish and filth.

If they were able to overlook all that, they could enjoy not only athletic competition, but various other entertainments and the ritual celebration of greater and lesser gods. Poets performed, philosophers lectured and prostitutes of both genders did brisk a business.

As is the case today, winners could expect to be wined, dined and celebrated. Losers could expect to be forgotten, if they were fortunate. Some of the losers in the competition called the pankration, a form of wrestling described by Professor Faulkner as “no holds barred,” could expect to be disabled.

A Visitor’s Guide to the Ancient Olympics is a lively, thoroughly researched account of a spectacle perhaps best appreciated from a distance.