Pankration was born in Greece, and its origins are lost in time. There are traces of Pankratium in manuscripts found that go back to 4000BC. The name Pankration derives from the Greek words Pan, that means “All”, and Kratos, that means “Strength”. Literally Pankration means ” All of the mights”!
It was introduced as a sporting event on the 33rd Olympic Games in 648 BC, but it was established in other sacred games and events long before the Olympic Games. It was strictly a “Men Only” event! Any woman found watching the games would be thrown of a cliff! According to historical courses, the creators of Pankration were 2 mythological heroes, Hercules and Theseus. In a competition there were no weight classes, they were called “The Heavy Games” exactly because there were no Weight Requirements. Athletes fought nude, with oiled bodies and bare hands, using sometimes wrappings around had and forearms. The sport had two main phases. During the first, called Ano Pankration (Upper Pankration), contestants had to fight upright. As the main goal was to knock down the opponent, punches, kicks and all kind of lethal blows were usually performed. The second phase, known as Kato Pankration (Lower Pankration) started with the first falling on the ground of some of the competitors. Here grappling, joint locking, and even strangulation were used as more effective methods of fighting on the floor.
According to Aristotle, Pankration was a mix of boxing and wrestling, athletes could use punching and elbows, kicks and knees, standing wrestling, throws, ground wrestling, joint locks and chokes. Biting and eye growing along with killing the opponent were not allowed. Pankratium was the most spectacular sport in the Olympic Games, and even so, it was abolished from the in 393AD. It was the beginning of the end for this amazing sport. Pankration remains the most complete combat discipline in the world, received from an old forgotten Era thru the Greeks, a discipline that has contributed to the birth of all Martial Arts.
The statue called “The Fighters”, shown at the Uffizi Museum in Florence, Italy, is clearly a recreation of two Pankration fighters, as it obviously shows with one of the fighters striking technique with a closed fist in a grappling scenario. These striking and grappling techniques are now used by today’s fighters, but the original ones were, no doubt of Greek origin, and to them goes the merits of inventing these ancient Fight sports and codifying all of its techniques. Pankration was also part of the army training of many Greek city-states. It was the core of the military instruction of the hoplites (the famous Greek infantry). The Spartans were particularly well-trained and excelled in that art. In their last stand at Thermophilae, they allegedly used Pankration skills as their final weapon. Once the 300 lost their armaments, they fought with bare hands, feet, and teeth, relying on their abilities to use unarmed fighting techniques.
Alexander the Great also highly appreciated such military proficiency. He often sought to attract pankratiasts in his famous Macedonian Phalanxes as he regarded soldiers trained in Pankration as a valuable army asset. One Athenian Pankration champion from the Olympic Games in 336 BCE was quite popular among the Macedonian army where he was on a service. His name was Dioxippus, and the historian Curtius Rufus in his “Histories of Alexander the Great” informs us that one day he was challenged to a one-to-one combat. His adversary was one of Alexander’s best soldiers, known as Coragus. The Macedonian ruler appointed a match between them in one of his banquets organized in Persia. In the bout, Dioxippus showed up naked and armed only with a club. Coragus presented himself in full armor. After a short fight, the Athenian champion defeated his armed and skilled opponent using only Pankration techniques. He could have killed him if it had not been for Alexander’s intercession. Alexander the Great was known for his passion for combat sports, so he made Dioxippus an elite member of his close circle, which made many of his soldiers jealous.
History repeats itself and in Italy, the second home of the Pankration, the Romans eventually adopted pankration, which they called pancratium in Latin. But in 393 AD, this ancient martial art, along with gladiatorial combat and all pagan festivals, was abolished by the Christian Byzantine emperor Theodosius I. It remained tough in the branches of the Italian Army, Para-Troopers or Folgore Special Forces, trained till today in the foot spettacolare of the ancient Pankration fighters. If not for the Italians, pankration would gradually disappear over the centuries, until a Greek-American martial artist named Jim Arvanitis rediscovered it 1969. Arvanitis’ work went on to make it famous around the world by the mid-seventies. Today, this discipline has branched into Pankratium , and Pankratium Athlima. Pankratium would be a total combat that includes KO but excludes the prohibited hits, and Pankratium Athlima that seeks to prevail over the opponent with controlled strikes and without getting hurt.
Pankratium was born more than 4000BC, the sports of combat are more than a simple actual entertainment, it’s a part of the human being, playing war games, and seek to excel in them. The healthy competition, the discipline, determination, the train hard or go home, all of this come from a long time ago. It’s part of you and me and our ancestors. So is it fair to say that that if the “300” from king Leonida were an army of MMA fighters? Or that Alexander the Great was also a fan and supporter of MMA?
If that’s so, they are also Legion…. WE ARE LEGION