Sports and activities were a key part of the Ancient Greece lifestyle. Since the Ancient Greeks paid excessive importance to their physical strengths and sporting activities, boxing and such outdoor events became very popular among the Ancient Greeks. Boxing in Ancient Greece dates back to at least the eighth century BCE, that is, when Homer wrote the Iliad and it was practiced in a variety of social contexts in different Ancient Greek city-states. Most detailed and comprehensive sources about Ancient Greek boxing are fragmentary or legendary, making it difficult to thoroughly reconstruct the rules, customs, and history surrounding this activity. Thus there can be no doubt in proclaiming that boxing was an integral and key part of the Ancient Greek way of life, which was common, yet special, in many ways.

Still, it is clear that gloved boxing bouts were a significant part of Ancient Greek athletic culture throughout the early classical period. Thus there can be no doubt in claiming the relevance that the sport of boxing held in the Ancient Greek way of livelihood, entertainment, and events.

Ancient Greek Boxing

Techniques of Boxing Used by the Ancient Greeks

There have been several sources and shreds of evidence to study the origin and development of boxing in Ancient Greece. The archaeological and artistic evidence of Ancient Greek boxing has been in existence from the Minoan and Mycenaean periods. There are also numerous legends and stories surrounding the origins of boxing in Ancient Greece.
Out of those numerous legends, one legend holds that the heroic ruler Theseus invented a unique form of boxing. Here, 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 with their fists until one of them was killed, in this fight. 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 of Homer, the Mycenaean warriors included boxing among their competitions in order to honor the fallen, though it is possible that the epics of Homer reflect the Ancient Greek culture of the later times. Boxing was among the contests held in memory of Achilles’ slain friend, Patroclus, toward the end of the Trojan War. Thus boxing as a sport also had a symbolic relevance for the Ancient Greeks.

Ancient Greek Boxing

The Type of Equipment and Instruments Used in Boxing

The context of Himantes comes in the commemoration of Patroclus that the Ancient Greeks later introduced the sport of boxing in the Olympic Games in 688 BCE. Punching bags, called Korykos, were used by the participants for training purposes, where the fighters wore leather straps, named Himantes, over their hands, leaving the fingers free. Wrists and even the breasts were sometimes kept free to protect them from injury. There was no protection for the face or head.

There have been different debates and views regarding the origin and development of boxing in Ancient Greece. The historian and scholar, Philostratus, maintained his view that the sport of boxing developed initially in Sparta, with the aim of hardening the warriors’ faces for battle. The early Spartans believed helmets were not required and boxing prepared them for the inevitable blows to the head that they would receive in battle. However, in regard to the pride and honor of the Spartans, they never participated in the competitive and gaming aspect of boxing, believing the means of defeat to be dishonorable for Spartan pride. This was the take of Sparta in the context of boxing. Thus there was a clear demarcation between the competitive and friendly aspects of boxing, for the Spartans.

Ancient Greek Boxing

Rules Followed in Ancient Greek Boxing

It is absolutely impossible to document each and every rule that was followed by the Ancient Greeks when they followed boxing. An absolute surety is not guaranteed. From the aforementioned sources, these can be confirmed and concluded as some of the rules followed in the game of boxing. They were-

1. No holds or wrestling were allowed while being involved in boxing.

2. Any type of blow with the hand was allowed but what was not allowed was any gouging with the fingers.

3. No ring was used while involved in boxing.

4. There were no rounds or time limits in the Ancient Greek version of boxing.

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

6. There was a clear selection process where no weight, classes, or opponents were selected by chance.

7. It was for the judges to enforce the rules by beating offenders with a switch.

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

The Cult of Boxing in Ancient Greece

The meaning of boxing goes “fighting with fists” which was a very tough sport in Ancient Greece with draconian laws which made it appear deadly. In the Classical Age of Ancient Greece, it was much harder than present-day professional boxing. Archaeological shreds of evidence have suggested that boxing games were in practice in Ancient Greece from the Minoan and Mycenaean periods. As mentioned earlier, numerous legends and myths have also shown the relevance of boxing in Ancient Greece. In the course of time, however, boxers began to fight in a standing position, which is the probable picture as shown in the Ancient Greek pottery.

Boxing became an Olympic event in 688 BCE and in 616 BCE, it was extended to the boys. There were no definite age and weight categories. There was no fixed duration and the match ended when one of the fighters submitted.

The Ancient Greek boxers wore leather thongs around their knuckles and the inside of those gloves was filled with wool at the outside, hard leather straps were attached to make the blows more efficient. For training purposes, the boxers used soft gloves and punch-ball training were also in practice.

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