According to the prevailing scholarly opinion, Geometric bronze animal figurines found at Olympia represent cattle and horses which were put under the protection of the divinity in this form. This view is challenged here for various reasons including literary testimony and comparisons with contemporary shrines containing similar dedications (especially Kato Syme on Crete). This paper argues that the bovines depicted were feral, and the figurines were offered by foreign aristocrats visiting the sanctuary especially for the sake of hunting these animals. Similarly, the horse figurines are interpreted as depicting feral equines, which were presumably captured and taken away by the visitors. After examining the cultic regulations related to the Olympic Games (timing, crowns, exclusion of married women and the penteteric periodicity), it is suggested that excessive hunting led to the extinction of some game animals and thus to a radical shift in the cult practice and ultimately resulted in the introduction of athletic events, i.e., in the Olympic Games.
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