The Fascinating History of Olympic Medals

When the Olympic Games started in 776 BCE, medals were not given as prizes to the victors in each competition. Wreathes made of olive leaves were offered as a way of rewarding those who achieved greatness and they continued to be the only form of acknowledgment until 400 BCE when the games were abolished by Roman emperor Theodosius or his son, depending upon which account you believe.

It wouldn't be until 1896 when the Olympic Games were revived once more inviting the best of the best to compete against their peers in most of the competitions we watch today. Medals replaced crowns of olive leaves but the gold, silver, and bronze medallions that are handed out to the competitors weren't chosen by mere chance. They have a distinct background in Greek mythology and pay tribute to the origin of the Games.

The Metals

Each precious metal used to craft the three medals given to first, second, and third place-holders in each competition has been carefully chosen to reference the chronology of Greek mythological events. Gold recalls the Golden Age when man lived in harmony and peace with one another and the Gods who would rule over them. Life was very good for those who lived during this period of time.

The Silver Age refers to a part of history when men were less noble than their predecessors who lived in the previous era. The Bronze Age then, as one might assume, recalls a time period of the mythology that was inferior to the previous eras, it was an age where war was prevalent and the men of the time were tough and determined, yet still inferior in some capacity. Mainly due to their violent tendencies.

While taking each of these Ages of Man at their literal interpretation would be missing the point, the Gold, Silver, and Bronze determinations serve as metaphorical representations of the Greek mythology time-line to reward Olympian excellence. But each of these precious resources is also known for the value and worth that is directly associated with it.

The Medals

Gold has long been considered a symbol of luxury and prestige, a precious metal indicative of wealth and achievement due to how difficult it is to acquire. So naturally, gold would be the medal chosen for champions. Silver has a somewhat lesser value by comparison to gold, it's easier to own, more abundant in supply, yet the finest silver still holds some form of prestige for ownership.

In order to demonstrate the value of silver within context of this discussion, it's important to note that when the Olympic Games were held for the first time in centuries in Athens in 1896, the first place winners were actually given silver medals and olive branches, symbolizing the meeting of past and present, while runners up received the traditional bronze medal. Bronze being the much more abundant material than the previous two metals, easy to maintain and holding a significant historical value for it was bronze that was used most often for crafting weapons and armor in time of war.

The traditional awards of three distinctive medals of disparate metals didn't catch on until 1904, as athletes who won their respective competitions were not given gold medals but instead valuable works of art in the form of paintings and sculptures. That practice lasted only one occasion, as the St. Louis edition in 1904 saw gold, silver, and bronze medals being handed out to victors.

However, there is also a very special distinction to the prized issued during this time as the gold medals were made of solid gold. That didn't last, however, as athletes who won their competitions at the Stockholm Games in 1912 were given gold medals that were actually made of silver with the exterior gilded with six grams of gold. This practice continues today, as these gold medals are minted in silver with a gold plating.

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Our craftspeople work with you on every detail to help you create a medal that is unique and special to your organization.

If you can imagine it, Medallic Art's artisans can create it.

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