The Pentathlon: Rowdy Ancient Wrestling

By: The Scribe on Monday, August 12, 2013

upright wrestlingThe final event in the ancient Pentathlon is one that somewhat baffles newcomers to ancient history. While it’s true that wrestling is literally the oldest form of fighting without weapons, wrestling as a sport has changed dramatically throughout the millennia.

In the Ancient Olympic Pentathlon, wrestling was the final component of the event, and unlike modern wrestling matches, the competitors were required to remain upright. Upright wrestling was held in the long jump sand pit, and the rules were simple: If any body part touched the ground, the other competitor took the point.

There were, of course, some additional rules for safety’s sake: No hitting, no biting, no holds on male *ahem* organs. Leaving the sand pit was grounds for disqualification.

upright wrestling 2It’s thought that three successful “throws” were required to be declared a winner in the Pentathlon upright wrestling match, and some sources suggest that breaking an opponent’s fingers—to get out of a hold, for example—was allowed. But, the legitimacy of this rule, and how a winner was actually declared, remains contested.

As with the majority of Olympic events in Ancient Greece, competitors were nude for the Pentathlon events, including wrestling—most of the time. Some sixth-century vase black-figure artwork does show the athletes wearing a loincloth, so it’s more likely that the rules and requirements of the sport changed over time—just as tends to happen with modern sporting events today!


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