Boxing is a very ancient sport. The Greeks believed that the god Apollo
was associated with boxing and is said to have beaten Ares the god of war
in the first ever boxing contest at Olympia. The hero Herakles
(Hercules) is also renowned for his boxing skills.
The boxers wrapped himantes, or straps of soft ox-hide, round their
hands to strengthen their wrists and steady their fingers. The form of
these thongs gradually changed and to make the blows more effective,
strips of hard leather were added around the knuckles of the fingers and
the thong was padded inside with wool. It took a lot of time to wind
these himantes onto the hands. The referee examined the thongs before
the competition began to make sure they conformed to the rules.
Rules of boxing
The following were forbidden.
Holds, which were the basic feature of wrestling.
Blows to the genital organs.
Reinforcing of thongs with extra layers of straps.
The use of pig-skin straps.
The boxing competition did not take place in a ring, which meant there
was no opportunity for cornering. Classification by weights was unknown
so the advantage would be with the heavier contestant. Also there was no
time limit on the duration of the game. The tactics were simple, all blows
were directed to the head. Scenes from pottery show that most damage
was done to the nose, cheek and chin.
Diagoras of Rhodes
Great sporting ability often
passes from one generation to
the next. This was true of
Diagoras of Rhodes (5th
century BC), his sons and
grandsons. Diagoras was a
man of enormous size and a
supreme boxer. He won at
each of the Sacred Crown
Games, as well as at many
His sons Akousilaos,
Damogetos and Dorieus all
won Olympic crowns after
him. His daughter Kallipatira
won fame by actually seeing
an Olympic event and living to
tell the tale.
The opponents fought until one of them withdrew, by raising one or two
fingers to show that he admitted defeat, or fell to the ground senseless.
Sometimes the referee, after joint consultation with the two contestants
allowed them to break off the fight for an interval of time to regain their
When a contest continued a long time, the winner could be judged using
the klimax system. In this, each of the contestants stood motionless and
received a blow from his opponent without making an attempt to avoid it.
It was decided that the contestant who was to go first would be decided
by lot. The winner in the end it was the contestant who could hold out
the longest against the blows who was declared the winner. This was a
dangerous method of deciding the winner and could even lead to the
death of one of the contestants. There is evidence of a boxer called
Kreugas who was killed by Damoxenos in the Nemean games.
Injuries to boxers were frequent and sometimes so severe that they
died. One boxer called Kleomedes of Astypalaia was responsible for
killing his opponent and went mad afterwards.
Misshapen boxer’s faces were more common, with flattened noses from a
fracture of the nose-bone and torn ears. Some boxers were given
nicknames such as Otothladias meaning Cauliflower ears! Satirical poems
too were written to poke fun at the unfortunate boxers.
Your head has become a sieve, Apollophanes,
Like a worm-eaten piece of paper filled with a million holes,
Holes made by ants, straight and skew.
But box fearlessly on, and even if you get any more cuts
than you have now, you can’t suffer any more.
Later on contestants began to rely heavily on defensive tactics and were
trained to keep their arms up for long periods. Melankomas of Caria, an
Olympic victor of the first century AD was able to keep up his guard for
two days skipping around his opponent without receiving a blow from his
opponent until finally his opponent gave in from sheer exhaustion!
Muhammad Ali the American boxer and Olympic light heavyweight
champion of 1960 used the same tactics with great success. He was said
‘to dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee’.
Boxing was introduced at the 1904 Games in St Louis, in the USA. The sport follows
the strict amateur boxing code of three rounds of three minutes each and, today all
boxers must wear headguards.
Laszio Papp (Hungary)
Laszio Papp (Hungary) Classification of the boxers was
Laszio Papp won his first gold medal as a unknown in ancient boxing. They
middleweight at the 1948 London Games,
Laszio Papp is perhaps the most successful had to fight with whoever fell to them
and then returned four years later, in by lot, a heavier contestant would be
Helsinki, to win the light middleweight at an advantage and stand a better
title. To cap an amazing career, he then chance of winning.
successfully defended his title in 1956.
A year later, at the age of thirty-one, he Unlike the Ancient Olympic Boxers
was given government permission to fight modern Boxers are divided into
professionally – the first boxer from a eleven different weight categories
communist country to do so. He won the ranging from light flyweight to super
European middleweight title but his heavyweight.
government would not let him fight for the
world title. He retired undefeated in 1965
and became coach to Hungary’s boxing
Bronze statue of a boxer. He is shown seated, his face
disfigured by punches, and he is wearing himantes.
Write a description of boxers in ancient Greece. What are
the differences and similarities between ancient and modern
Get students to make himantes, usingthick wool or string
and copying the different types from the diagram shown.
Find out about other famous boxers in the Modern