Boxing in Ancient Greece dates back to at least the eighth century BC (Homer’s Iliad) and was practiced in a variety of social contexts in different Greek city-states. Most extant sources about ancient Greek boxing are fragmentary or legendary, making it difficult to reconstruct the rules, customs, and history surrounding this activity in great detail.

Still, it is clear that gloved boxing bouts were a significant part of ancient Greek athletic culture throughout the early classical period.

Ancient Greek Boxing

Ancient Greek Boxing Techniques

There is archeological and artistic evidence of ancient Greek boxing as early as the Minoan and Mycenaean periods. There are numerous legends about the origins of boxing in Greece.

One legend holds that the heroic ruler Theseus invented a form of boxing in which two men sat face to face and beat each other with their fists until one of them was killed. In time, the boxers began to fight while standing and wearing gloves (with spikes) and wrappings on their arms below the elbows, but otherwise, they fought naked.

According to the Iliad, Mycenaean warriors included boxing among their competitions honoring the fallen, though it is possible that the Homeric epics reflect later Greek culture. Boxing was among the contests held in memorial of Achilles’ slain friend Patroclus, toward the end of the Trojan War.

Ancient Greek Boxing

Himantes

It was in commemoration of Patroclus that the Greeks later introduced boxing to the Olympic Games in 688 BC. Participants trained on punching bags (called a Korykos). Fighters wore leather straps (called Himantes) over their hands (leaving the fingers free), wrists, and sometimes breast, to protect them from injury. There was no protection for the face or head.

The scholar and historian Philostratus maintained that boxing was originally developed in Sparta, in order to harden warriors faces for battle. The early Spartans believed helmets were unnecessary and boxing prepared them for the inevitable blows to the head they would receive in battle. However, Spartans never participated in the competitive aspect of boxing, believing the means of defeat to be dishonorable.

Ancient Greek Boxing

The rules, though it is impossible to be absolutely sure, from the aforementioned sources seem to be as per the following:

1. No holds or wrestling

2. Any type of blow with the hand was allowed but no gouging with the fingers

3. No ring was used

4. There were no rounds or time limits

5. Victory was decided when one fighter gave up or was incapacitated

6. No weight-classes, opponents were selected by chance

7. Judges enforced the rules by beating offenders with a switch

8. Fighters could opt to exchange blows undefended if the fight lasted too long

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