Submission Fighting and the Rules of Ancient Greek Wrestling
By Christopher MillerThe Ancient Greek sports are remarkable in human history and instructive tothose interested in promoting athletics due to their recorded longevity of more than amillennium, their high levels of participation amongst the people of the time, and thegreat degree of enthusiasm clearly demonstrated for these sports through period artwork and through remunerations for victorious athletes. The Ancient Greek sports alsoproduced the rare example of the professional sports-player. Interestingly enough thereare examples of female participation in the sports primarily in wrestling and the foot andhippic races, showing thereby the universal appeal of these games. Athenaeus writes,‘
e)n Xi/w| de\ th|~ nh/sw| kai\ badi/zein h(/disto/n e)stine)pi\ ta\ gumva/sia kai\ tou\v dro/mouv kai\ o(ra~nprospalai/ontav tou\v ne/ouv tai~v ko/raiv.
’ (Athenaeus. TheDeipnosophists. XIII. 566e.) ‘On the island Chios the most pleasant thing is to walk overto the gymnasiums and running-tracks and to watch the young men wrestling with thegirls.’ It is therefore of great use to us to discover the precise nature of these sports andthereby learn the world’s most enduring and popular models of athletics.
Greek Athletic Culture
The most highly respected Ancient Greek sports were individual, not team, events.This is not to say that there were not team games played, usually involving balls of various kinds, but these team games were not given the honour of the individual events.This prejudice in favour of individual achievement likely lies in a deeply ingrainedelement of Greek culture involving the highly self-conscious sense of personal identityreflected and immortalized in the poems of Homer. Thus the acquisition of personalhonour and the risks one takes when setting one’s honour on the line in competitions withothers produced a great deal of excitement in the minds of the Ancient Hellenes. Successin sports not only, by the very nature of the skills involved, reflected military prowessthereby granting the victor prestige in a society in need and in fear of fearsome warriorsbut also epitomized the struggle to assert one’s self over another and thereby todemonstrate the superiority of one’s own sense of identity over another’s.It is difficult for us to know from a participatory standpoint which sports were themost popular. Certainly from a spectatorial point of view the most popular sports werethe percussive combat events of boxing and the pankration and the noisy, fast pacedcompetitions of the hippodrome. Given the outlines of Vitruvius for a Greek palaestra,one might suspect that running and the combat sports were the most popular forparticipants. That the throwing and jumping events were thought less of can be seen intheir being lumped together into one competition: the Pentathlon. But the fact that theywere a recognized part of the Olympic programme also goes to show their relativeimportance in a world replete with all varieties of possible contests. The precise methodof the jumping contest in the Pentathlon aside, we are relatively well informed of whatwent on during training and while competing in the Greek sports. We can piece togetherhow contestants ran their races, how charioteers won their crowns, how boxers dealt theirblows and how pankratiasts pummeled their opponents. The rules of these events were2