A CONCISE HISTORY OF PANGRATION ATΗLIMA
COMMITTEE FOR THE HISTORICAL STUDY OF PANGRATION ATHLEMA
PRESIDENT: Prof Dr Athanasios Nakasis, architect, President of Hellenic ICOMOS
Dr Sofia Avgerinou-Kolonias, architect, Professor (National Technical University of Athens)
Dr Nikolaos Alexandris, mathematician, Professor (University of Peiraias)
DrΔρ Panayiotis Faklaris, archaeologist, Professor (University of Thessaloniki)
Dr Nikolaos Lianos, αρχιτέκτων, Professor (University of Thrace)
Dr Dimitri Nakasis, archaeologist, Professor (University of Toronto-Canada)
Dr Kalliopi Preka, archaeologist, honorary ephor of antiquities (ministry of Culture)
Dr Ourania Viziinou, archaeologist
Dr Eugenia Zouzoula, archaeologist
Angelos Nakasis, architect , MS (National Technical University of Athens)
Evangelia Kardara, conservator, MS (University of Ioannina)
Vasileios Palantzas, architect, honorary director (ministry of Culture)
Eugenia Sakkelariou, archaeologist
Sofia Spiropoulou, archaeologist
Andromache Vasilopoulou, archaeologist
Vasileios Kotsiaris, conservator
From antiquity to present Pangration (Pagration, Pankration, Pancration) is considered to be one of the most demanding fighting systems ever. It is often recorded in ancient sources as a martial art. In antiquity Pangration was spectacular and popular and much more interesting than other sports because the pangratiasts practiced a combination of wrestling and boxing techniques which resulted in switching scenes and often falls. It was also considered a very dangerous sport since it could bring about the death of the athlete. It is documented in literary sources the example of Arracheion, a pangratiast from Peloponnese, who died during a match and was declared winner posthumously! The story goes that few minutes before he died he had broken the finger of his opponent, who signalled to the referee by raising his index finger to quit the game out of pain.
During the Pangration match all moves were allowed except from two: the athletes were forbidden to bite or to strike blind the opponent. Even those restrictions did not apply, in this way, at the city of Sparta, where Pangration formed part of the military training. In Sparta there were Pangration games for the women as well.
The origins of Pangration are to be found in ancient Greek mythological traditions, according which Heracles and Theseus, are the inventors of the sport, since they first used its techniques to confront the Nemea Lion and Minotaur respectively.
Pangration was included in the Olympic Games in 648 B.C. and it constituted integral part of all major and local athletic contests in the Classical and Roman periods, from Italy to Anatolia and from Black Sea to Egypt. Pangration became the most popular sport of antiquity because of the large demands it required from the athletes, the diversity it provided as a spectacle and the excitement it created at the audience. These characteristics are evident in its ancient name, Pangration, which literally means “to dominate totally.” It seems that no athletic event was considered important enough in antiquity if it did not include Pangration.
According to Aristotle, Leucarus of Acarnania finalized the sport’s rules. Matches were conducted in accordance with the same general rules that governed all sports. The athletes competed in age classes and in couples. They were selected to compete with each other by lot. When the number of competitors was odd, one of them had a bye and he advanced to the following round without having to compete. Consequently he had to compete fewer times to reach the final round.
The athletes could fight standing or on the ground. Some of the techniques that were used are known to us from ancient pottery depictions, sculpture and literature. Strikes delivered mainly with legs, while kicking was considered a great advantage. The basic instruction of Pangration techniques was conducted by the Paedotribae, who were in charge of boys’ physical education. High level athletes were also trained by special trainers who were called Gymnastae, some of whom were themselves successful Pangration athletes before.
According to Greek traditions Pangration contests were initially conducted outside established athletic contests, in the frame of funeral games in honour of mythical figures. Several sources refer to matches following a challenge. Matches were always held during festival performances, especially at Olympia (the Olympic Games), at Delphi (the Pythian Games), Isthmia (the Isthmian games) and Nemea (the Nemean games).
Pangration matches and training bouts were mainly practiced at gymnasia, palaestras, stoas, stadia, konistras, theatres and, in Roman times, amphitheatres. Usually Pangratiasts competed nude, just like other athletes did. Nevertheless Pangratiasts were different from other athletes in that they had particular behaviours, diet, hair and body care. When they were competing they anointed themselves with oil and sand, as did other athletes. In imperial times, the Aleiptes (the teachers of the athletes) put wax on the bodies of the Pangratiasts (and wrestlers) in the Aleipterion, a separate part of the gymnasium or the palaestra.
Victory in Pangration could result from the opponent resigning during the match or admitting defeat. Victory after death and victory in all three extreme sports (Boxing, Wrestling, and Pangration) is also documented. Ancient sources refer in many cases to the public response, which the judges had to take seriously. There were often quarrels that sometimes led to injuries and even death.
In some competitions, prizes were not of high material value, but rather of symbolic value, but in other competitions the glory and honour of victory was accompanied by a high monetary or material reward. The prizes in many cases could be very financially valuable. There are signs, moreover, that prizes for winning the Pangration in some competitions were much more valuable than prizes for winning other events.
The most common prizes for victors included insertion in a list of victors, champion status, trophies, grants of citizenship, a homecoming procession, the demolishing of city walls for them to pass (since the city had no need of fortifications when they had such athletic victors), statues, and monuments, including funerary monuments. The monuments could also be sculptures, reliefs or vases (of metal, stone or clay). The most common monuments were statues or busts of the athlete. Other forms of monuments were altars, columns or lists of victors that constituted a monumental group. The inscription of winners was placed on a common stele, a herm or a statue base. Many times the name of the athlete was written on the crown (either inscribed or raised).
In certain victory catalogues Pangration is referred to as “Sacred Game”, a characterization which is extremely rare for other sports of antiquity. The most common prize in the “Sacred Games” (which did not award cash prizes) was a simple crown. The crown was made of wild olive at Olympia, of laurel at Delphi, of pine at Isthmia and of wild celery at Nemea.
The sources preserve the names of many famous athletes, and in many cases victories and anecdotes from their lives such as for Sostratos of Sicyon, who used a special technique in which he bent back the fingers of his opponents, Polydamas from Thessaly, who became a legend because of his alleged fight with a lion in Thrace, Theogenes from Thasos, who was believed to have obtained 1400 victories in Pangration and boxing competitions and many others.
Pangration was widely spread outside the Eastern Mediterranean basin as early as the Hellenistic Period and reached Asia via the military campaigns of Alexander the Great. It is believed to be the ancestor of many martial or athletic arts (such as, taekwondo, karate etc.), developed in this geographical area. It contributed to the interchange of ideas and techniques and inspired many parts of the world in all eras.
Pangration revived globally after the 2nd World War. Today Pangration is developed by the World Pangration Athlema Federation (W.P.A.F.), established in 2002, as well as by hundreds of other international, national and local organizations which provide training and encourage the perpetuation of this ancient sport. The Greek Pangration Athlema Federation (G.P.A.F.) was officially established in 1996. Its main objective is the promotion, circulation and organization of Pangration in its traditional as well as its modern form. The main features of modern Pangration preserve its ancient character. To begin with, the official language used during the contest (terminology) is ancient Greek, while the instruction program is based on techniques and methods which were in use during antiquity. Further more the distinction of Pangration in two main categories, the upper Pangration and the lower Pangration, is also an establishment inherited from the past. The sport presents a unique spectacle and it comprises literally hundreds of grabs and counteracts. One important feature of modern Pangration sport is that the regulations and rules are constituted in a way that the protection of the athletes is obtained in the most sufficient degree. The preservation of many ancient elements in the conduction of modern Pangration has a significant social and cultural function and meaning because it keeps alive the connection with the past and the roots of the sport. In that way the people who are practicing the sport today recognize it as part of their cultural heritage. The methods and techniques of Pangration have survived throughout the centuries, from generation to generation and today it constitutes a popular sport providing to all people involved a sense of identity and continuity.