Pankration was an ancient sporting event that made its debut in the 33rd Greek Olympic Games in 648 B.C. The fact that the sport itself was introduced on the Olympic program suggests that it was around much earlier than this date.
The word Pankration came from the adjective “pankrates”, meaning “all encompassing” or “all powers”.
The sport pits fierce and mighty fighters against one another in a winner-takes-all fight. It is said to be a grueling mix of boxing and wrestling but with only a few rules like no biting and no gouging the opponent’s eyes, mouth, nose etc. while attacks like kicking the opponent’s belly and punches were allowed.
Pankration was the most watched event during every Greek athletic festival, including the Olympics.
Similar to boxing and wrestling, Pankration had categories for men and boys. Serious injuries and even deaths were “occupational hazards”, and considered normal happenings.
Pankratists trained at the palaestra (training room) where they could use special equipment inside the korykos, a room packed with punching and kicking equipment; bags or balls filled with fig seeds that were hanging from the ceiling and a sandbag hanging two feet off the floor for kicking, though some players would kick tree trunks as a replacement forbags. Records stated that some pankratists could even kick through war shields.
During the actual match, Greeks would draw names from an urn. Originally, the fighters fought nude and oiled but later, they wore thongs and sheepskins to wipe their blood and sweat. They would fight with their fists or open hands, hooking blows to the head.
When the sport was introduced in Rome, Italian fighters wore loincloths in order to protect their genitals. In the long run, they started competing armed as they wore studded gloves which could open a gash to the bone. They modified Pankration for their own games and were eventually transformed into a bloody spectacle.
A popular skill of the sport was called the chancery where a fighter would grab the hair of his opponent then pull his head down and deliver an uppercut using his free hand to his opponent’s throat or face. Strangling, known as the choke holdi or hadakikime, was a skill where they used their forearm across the opponent’s windpipe or carotid artery to force submission or unconsciousness.
Another skill was called the klimakismos or the “ladder trick” where the fighter jump and throttle his opponent from behind, then surrounding him with his legs around the stomach and scissoring it with his thighs.
Other well-liked skills are “flying mares” and “stomach throws” which are hard blows and will knock the wind out of their rival, leaving them powerless and unprotected.
The fight continued until one fighter raises his one hand, tapping the opponent on his shoulder signifying his defeat, or when a pankatist is killed.
During 1896, the revival year of the Olympic Games, pankration was not originally reinstated as an Olympic event. Founder of the Modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin in 1895 stated that “we accept all events to be reinstated, except pankration.”
In 1969, an amateur version of pankration was introduced.
- About the Ancient Olympics, and the events of the Ancient Olympic Games
- About Extinct and Ancient Sports
- Amateur Pankration — the modern version of this sport
- List of Extinct Sports
- List of unusual sports