Ancient Greek and ancient Roman boxing

The first detailed description of a boxing fight one can find in Homer’s Iliad (ca. 675 BC). According to this book, the Mycenaean warriors incorporated boxing among their competitions and they were honoring the fallen with great ceremonies (ca. 1200 BC). Another legend holds that the heroic ruler Theseus (around the 9th century BC) invented a form of boxing in which two men were facing each other and fought with their fists till death. After some time, the boxers began to fight while wearing gloves with spikes and some wrappings on their arms below the elbows, but otherwise they were completely naked.

When boxing was accepted for the first time as an Olympic sport in 688 BC, it was called Pygmachia or Pygme. The participants in the boxing match trained on punching bags (called at the time korykos). In order to protect them from injury the fighters were wearing leather straps (known as himantes) over their hands, wrists, and sometimes breasts. Their fingers were left free after putting the straps. Based on one of the Legends, the Spartans were using boxing in order to prepare for sword and shield fighting.

In ancient Rome the two forms of boxing (the athletic and the gladiatorial) were coming from the Etruscan boxing. The fighters were usually slaves or criminals who were fighting in order to become champions and win the biggest price ever – their freedom. The boxing matches very often ended with the death or damaging one of the opponents. The fist fighting became so famous that even emperors started to participate in this combats. In 400 A.D Theodoric the Great banned boxing because this sport was an offense to God (because it leaves scars on people’s faces) but this didn’t stop the boxing matches outside the Eastern Empire major cities. The boxing stayed very fashionable during the Middle Ages and after that within Europe.

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