Wrestling | Greece

Name in Original Language


Area Where Played



Wrestling is one of the most ancient athletic activities. It is documented in the Egyptian tombs of Ptahhotep and Achethotep, dated to the mid-3rd millennium B.C., and at Beni Hassan where a tomb decoration bears more than 4000 wrestling scenes, dated to 2000 B.C. The wrestlers, wearing belts, attempt to overturn their opponents. In a relief in the Temple of Ramses III at Madinet Habou, dating from the 12th century B.C., Egyptians and foreigners are seen competing in wrestling and stick-fighting in front of the pharaoh. Wrestling scenes were also popular in Mesopotamia and carved on seals and reliefs of all periods depicting wrestlers wearing belts. Cuneiform texts from Mesopotamia refer to different postures and holds on the limbs and belt. In the famous epic of Gilgamesh, the divine hero meets Enkidou in a wrestling match, whereby they seized each other like trained wrestlers. It is most likely that athletic festivals were limited to the royal court and that the athletic activities were mainly the concern of the members of the upper classes.
In Minoan Crete the relief on a rhyton from Hagia Triada, dating to the 16th century B.C, depicts, among other things, scenes of wrestling. Wrestlers wore a kind of helmet with protective shields for the cheeks. For the Myceneans wrestling was one of the most popular contests, as reflected in the Homeric epics. In the Iliad, Achilles organized funerary contests in honor of his dead friend, Patroclus, and wrestling was the third event in the row. In the Odyssey, Alcinous, the king of the Phaeaceans, announces the beginning of games in honour of his guest, Odysseus. Wrestling comes direct after racing.

Wrestling as an independent sport and as part of the pentathlon was introduced in the Olympic Games of 708 BC, while wrestling for boys was introduced in 632 BC.

Throughout antiquity people regarded wrestling as a military preparation as well as a popular sport. It never seized being practiced, as attested for example by the scene of wrestling between the Byzantine hero Digenis Akritas and the personified Death. It was officially presented in an organized way in the 19th century (see Wrestlling_modern).

Detailed Description


The sport was divided into “orthia pali” (standing wrestling) and “kato pali” (ground wrestling). The wrestlers in the beginning stood opposite one another with their feet bent and slightly opened, a stance that was called systasis or parathesis. In antiquity there was no system of discerning different categories according to weight. Standing wrestling: The objective was simply to throw the opponent on the ground. Three falls signified the defeat and the winner was called triakter. The contest continued until the final fall of one of the opponents. In this type of wrestling the athletes used mainly their upper body (head, neck, shoulders, hands, chest, and waist). Ground wrestling: The contest ended with the “surrender” of one of the athletes who had to raise his right hand with his index pointed, pretty much like the pangration practice. This type of wrestling exercised mainly the lower part of the body apart from the hands. The natural training space was the palaestra, the typical square building of ancient cities surrounded by porticoes and auxiliary rooms, while the games themselves took place on the sandpit (for standing wrestling), or in a mud arena (for ground wrestling). The wrestlers used to anoint their body with olive oil before the game.

In ancient wrestling several handles allowed: the leghook and the armlock (amma), the headlock or chokehold (aghein), the throw on the ground (rassein), the necklock (trahilizein), the waistlock (dialamvanein) etc. However, blows and biting were not permitted, as well as wrestling outside the limits of the sandpit.