Much like their modern counterpart, the Olympic Games in ancient Greece wasn't exactly a level playing field for women. It's true that women of all ages were allowed to enjoy the festivities and exhilarating athletic events in cities throughout the Peloponnese states, including Delos and Athens. But the Games in Olympia in the land of Elis—the city where the Olympics originated—retained its traditional, sacred ban of women. Elis decreed that if a married woman (unmarried women could watch) was caught present at the Olympic Games she would be cast down from Mount Typaeum and into the river flowing below, according to Greek geographer and travel writer Pausanias.
During these ancient times, women lived much shorter lives, were excluded from political decision-making and religious rites, and were forced into early marriages after giving birth to several children. Despite the societal inequalities and oppression, women in Greece wanted to play—so they started their own Olympics called the Heraean Games.
“Every fourth year,” Pausanias wrote in 175 A.D., “there is woven for Hera a robe by the Sixteen women, and the same also hold games called Heraea.”