Name in Original Language
Area Where Played
The name πυγμαχία in Greek derives from πυγμή i.e. fist, and means actually fighting with fists. It was first mentioned by Homer, Il. 23, 653. It is one of the oldest sports documented in ancient art: it is depicted in Sumerian and Assyrian reliefs already since the 3rd millennium B.C. and in a famous wallpainting from Akrotiri in Santorini dating from the mid-2nd millennium B.C. This is the first depiction showing two young boys fighting wearing gloves. Gloves have been ever since an indispensable gear for boxers.
Πυγμαχία for men was introduced in the Olympic Games in 688 B.C. and for boys in 623 B.C.
In the Roman period, boxing often meant a fight until death for satisfying the spectators’ desire for mortal combats. Usually, however, such fights were fought by professionals and by slaves. Fighters in that period used to fight within a circle marked on the floor. This is where the modern term “ring” came from. Boxing was abolished in Late Antiquity and it was revived in England in the 17th century.
It is a very old discipline and it was practicing in very different cultures, more or less in the same way. It belongs since 688 BC to the Olympic sports.
The exact rules of boxing are unknown, but it is known that the following were not allowed: holds, blows to the genitals, reinforcing the stripes (thongs) with which athletes wrapped their fists with extra layers of leather and the use of pig-skin straps. The referees had to examine the stripes before each contest. The athletes had to protect their ears by covering them with leather straps called amphotidae or epotidae. Ancient boxing differed in many ways from modern boxing. The athletes did not compete in different categories according to their weight; on the contrary the opponents were selected by lot. There was no time limit to the contest. The opponents had to fight until one withdrew or was knocked out. Sometimes, if both contestants agreed, the referee would allow them time to regain their strength. Heavy blows on the head were not only allowed, but also desirable. The athletes’ position in relation to the sun was crucial, as the boxer facing the sun could be glared and not react against his opponent’s blow. For particularly long matches, the opponents could take the option of klimax, where each one had to stand still and receive a blow from his opponent. The match had to end either with a knockout or with one of the boxers declaring his defeat. The Romans initially adopted the sharp thongs of the Greeks but soon devised another kind of glove, caestus, replacing the leather knuckleduster with a metal insert.