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Gregory (Grigorios) Zorzos

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Pangration Pammachon
By Gregory (Grigorios) Zorzos   
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Last edited: Saturday, October 07, 2006
Posted: Saturday, October 07, 2006

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Ancient Hellenic Martial Art

PANCRATIUM (pankration, pangration) is composed of pan and kratos, and accordingly signifies an
athletic game, in which all the powers of the fighter were called into
action. The Pancratium was one of the games or gymnastic contests which were
exhibited at all the great festivals of Greece; it consisted of boxing and
wrestling (pigmi and pali), and was reckoned to be one of the heavy or hard
exercises (varea or varitera), on account of the violent exertions it
required, and for this reason it was not much practised in the gymnasia; and
where it was practised, it was pro-bably not without modifications to render
it easier for the boys. According to the ancient physicians it had very
rarely a beneficial influence upon health (H. Mercurial. De Art. Gymnast, v.
7). At Sparta the regular Pancratium was forbidden, but the name was there
applied to a fierce and irregular fight not controlled by any rules, in
which even biting and scratching were not uncommon, and in which, in short,
everything was allowed by which one of the parties might hope to overcome
the other. In Homer we neither find the game nor the name of the Pancratium
mentioned, and as it was not introduced at the Olympic games until 0 . 33
(Paus. v. 8. 3), we may presume that the game, though it may have existed
long before in a rude state, was not brought to any degree of per-fection
until a short time before that event. It is scarcely possible to speak of an
inventor of the Pancratium, as it must have gradually arisen out of a rude
mode of fighting, which is customary among all uncivilized nations, and
which was kept up at Sparta in its original state. But the Greeks re-garded
Theseus as the inventor of the Pancratium, who for want of a sword was said
to have used this mode of fighting against the Minotaurus (Scholia ad Pind.
Nem. v. 89). Other legends re-presented Heracles as having been victor in
the Pancratium (Paus. v. 8. 1 , Hygin. Fab. 273), and later writers make
other heroes also fight the Pancratium (Lucan, Pharsal., IV, 6 3, etc.); but
these are mere fictions. After the Pancratium was once introduced at
Olympia, it soon found its way also into the other great games of Greece,
and in the times of the Roman emperors we also find it practised in Italy.
In 0 . 1 45 the Pancratium for boys was introduced at the Olympic games, and
the first boy who gained the victory was Phaedimus, a native of a town in
Troas (Paus. v. 8, in fin.). This innovation had been adopted before in
others of the national games, and in the 6 st Pythiad (0 . 1 08), we find a
Theban boy of the name of Olaides as victor in the Pancratium in the Pythian
games. (Paus. x. 7. 3). At the Isthmian games the Pancratium for boys is
not mentioned till the reign of Domitian (Corsini, Dissert. Agon. p. 1 0 ),
but this may be merely accidental, and the game may have been practised long
before that time. Philostratus (Imag. ii. 6) says that the Pancratium of men
was the most beautiful of all athletic contests; and the combatants must
certainly have shown to the spectators a variety of beautiful and exciting
spectacles, as all the arts of boxing and wrestling appeared here united.
(Aristot. Rhet. L 5, Plut. Sympos. II, p. 638, c). The combatants in the
Pancratium did not use the cestus, or if they did, it was the ι ? ?
[cestus], so that the hands remained free, and wounds were not easily
inflicted. The name of these combatants was Pancratiastae (Pollux iii. 30.
5) They fought naked, and had their bodies anointed and covered with sand,
by which they were en-abled to take hold of one another. (Philostr. l. c.,
Aristoph. Pax, 848). In cases where the contests of the Pancratiastae were
not regulated by strict rules, it might, as at Sparta, sometimes happen,
that the fighters made use of their teeth and nails (Philostr. l. c.;
Lucian, Demonacc, c. 49; Pint. Lac. Apophth. p. 234, d); but such
irregularities probably did not occur at any of the great public games. When
two Pancratiastae began their contest, the first object which each of them
endeavoured to accomplish, was to gain a favourable posi-tion, each trying
to make the other stand so that the sun might shine in his face, or that
other inconveniences might prevent his fighting with success. This struggle
( περί της στάσεως , Aeschin. c. Ciesiph. p. 83, ed. Steph.) was only the
introduction to the real contest, though in certain cases this preparatory
struggle might terminate the whole game, as one of the parties might wear
out the other by a series of stratagems, and compel him to give up further
resistance. Sostratus of Sicyon had gained many a victory bjr such tricks.
(Paus. vi. 4. 1 ). When the real contest began, each of the fighters might
commence by boxing or by wrestling, accordingly as he thought he should be
more successful in the one than in the other. The victory was not decided
until one of the parties was killed, or lifted up a finger, thereby
declaring that he was unable to continue the contest either from pain or
fatigue (Faber, Agonist, i. 8). It usually happened that one of the
combatants, by some trick or other, made his antagonist fall to the ground,
and the wrestling, which then commenced, was called ανακλινοπάλη , and
continued until one of the parties declared himself conquered or was
strangled, as was the case at Olympia with Arrhichion or Arrachion of
Phigalia, in 0 . 54. (Paus. viii. 40. l, etc.; Euseb. Chron. p. 1 50,
Scalig.). A lively description of a struggle of this kind is given by
Philostratus (l. c.). Sometimes one of the fighters fell down on his back on
purpose that he might thus ward off the attacks of his antago-nist more
easily, and this is perhaps the trick called υπτιασ?ός. The usual mode of
making a person fall was to put one foot behind his, and then to push him
backward, or to seize him round his body in such a manner that the upper
part being the heavier the person lost his balance and fell. Hence the
expressions ? λα ? , ? , ? αιρείν , τα ? έχειν , δια ? σπάν , etc. (Scalig.
ad Euseb. Cliron. p. 48). The annexed woodcut represents two pairs of
Pancratiastae; the one on the right hand is an example of the ανακλινοπάλη ,
and that on the left of the ? . They are taken from Krause's Gymnastik und
Agonistik d. Hellen. Taf. xxi. b. Fig. 35, b. 3 , b., whore they are copied
respectively from Grivaud, Rec. d. Mon. Ant. vol. i. pi. 20, 2 , and Krause,
Signorum vet. icones tab. 1 0. At Rome the Pancratium is first mentioned in
the games which Caligula gave to the people. (Dion Cass. lix. 1 3) After
this time it seems to have become extremely popular, and Justinian (Novell.
cv. c. 1 , provided πάγκαρπον be, as some suppose, a mistake for
παγκράτιον ) made it one of the seven solemnities ( ) which the consuls had
to provide for the amusement of the people. Several of the Greek
Pancratiastae have been immortalised in the epinician odes of Pindar, namely
Timodemus of Athens (Nem. ii), Melissus and Strepsiades of Thebes (Isth.
iii. and vi), Aristoclides, Oleander and Phylacides of Aegina (Nem. iii.,
Isth. iv. v. and vi), and a boy Pytheas of Aegina. (Nem. v.) But besides
these the names of a great many other victors in the Pancratium are known.
(Compare Fellows, Discoveries in Lycia, p.3 3, Lond. 1 84 ). The diet and
training of the Pancratiastae was the same as that of other Athletae

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Reviewed by Elizabeth Taylor (Reader) 10/8/2006
When doing some research on Sparta is where I first heard the term. As a student of Karate, I was highly interested.

Good article. Informative.