What Is Pankration In Ancient Olympics?

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Mixed martial arts is inspired by many fighting arts in world history, and Pankration is one of them.

But what is pankration in ancient olympics? Here’s the short answer:

Pankration was introduced to the Olympics in 648 BC. Ancient Pankratists didn’t have padded gloves, shin guards, or headgears. The only rule in this sport is no eye gouging and biting. Two brave men just fight for fame, money, and glory. 

Pankration has a rich ancient history that makes it the sport that we know today. Have a read and find out. 

What is Pankration?

A vase depiction of two athletes competing in the pankration. Panathenaic amphora, made in Athens in 332-331 BC, during the archonship of Niketes. From Capua.
British Museum, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Pankration was one of the original Olympic events. It’s intense combat that combines different fighting elements such as boxing, wrestling, and kicking. Pankration fighters could use any technique they want so long as it isn’t illegal against their opponent.

It’s one of the oldest martial arts and heavily influences what we know as modern MMA.

Ancient Pankration is considered one of the most brutal forms of combat arts. 

Statue of Pankratiasts fighting. Greek bronze, 2nd century BC. Staatliche Antikensammlungen in Munich.
User:MatthiasKabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Unlike other martial arts that need a point system, Pankration’s main goal is to make their opponents quit. They’re allowed to use whatever move they want. 

All types of kicks, punches, and submissions are allowed. And if you’re wondering about groin strikes, it’s allowed too.

Despite allowing almost everything, Pankration still has some rules. Eye gouging and biting are strictly prohibited. Doing it in the middle of the match may subject you to disqualification.

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Modern Pankration

 Thomas Murphy, a member of Fight Club 29, fights his opponent on the ground during the Camp Pendleton Pankration Invitation Feb. 26, 2011 in San Mateo.
English: Lance Cpl. Sarah Anderson, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As we enter the modern world, Pankration comes with it. It became more humane with the rise of rules and regulations.

Modern Pankration is the direct ancestor of Mixed Martial Arts. Unlike the ancient version, strikes at the groin, back of the head, and spine is not allowed.

Submission choices were reduced. Back in the Ancient Olympics, you could strangle your opponent with your hands if you had the chance. Today, only BJJ-rooted submissions are usable. 

Despite being revised, Pankration retained its intensity regarding strikes and grappling. It is still dangerous and effective for self-defense

The modern style of Pankration is safer than before. Pro Pankration fighters today wear padded MMA gloves for better impact absorption. 

Amateur Pankration fighters wear head gears and shin guards to attain optimum protection. In the old days, fighters battled it out naked and unprotected.

You can win via the judge’s decision in modern Pankration. Playing safe and more tactical is now a choice if you don’t want to go for a finish. 

What does the word pankration mean?

Pankration means ‘All powers.’ It lives up to its fighting style, which requires all your powers to defeat your opponent. 

The word Pankration can be traced all the way to its motherland in ancient Greece.

A Pankratist is what you’ll call a Pankration fighter. If Boxing has boxers and Athletics has runners, then Pankration has Pankratists. 

When was pankration introduced to the Olympics?

Pankration was introduced to the Greek Olympic Games in 648 BC. It started as a local event where brave warriors fought. Later on, it became a crowd favorite because spectators could bet on fights and win money. People also took the opportunity to join and make a living out of it.

Romans adapted Pankration from the Greeks. Eventually, they performed this combat sport inside their famous Flavian Amphitheater. Gladiators used it along with swords and other weapons. 

Before it was added to the  Olympics, Spartans used Pankration at the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. They fought the Persians with Pankration after their swords broke. 

Pankration was one of the most brutal Olympic events back then. Gloves, shin guards, and padded mats were not a thing during that time, so maximum damage was to be expected.

Did you know? A pankratiast named Arrhichion earned his fame for winning a pankration match after death. Just one of the many fascinating pankration facts in history.

Olympic Pankration in ancient times was much more dangerous than in our modern era. 

Modern Olympic Pankration provides more safety to the Pankratist. Career-ending strikes like low blows, back of the head, and spine strikes are now banned. 

Modern Olympic Pankration is like a Mixed Martial Art event. It’s no wonder why the Olympics still won’t allow MMA as an Olympic event. 

What were the rules for Pankration?

Pankration was a brutal sport performed by the Greeks. Almost everything was allowed in the sport except for using your teeth, eye pokes, or “low blows.” The fighters could use any technique. There was a preference between boxing and wrestling styles.

Pankration wrestling illustration

Pankratiasts would often use two forms of wrestling to win against the opponent.

The standing version would allow you to win if you forced your opponent to touch the ground 3 times with their hands. A similar rule is often practiced to this day in modern wrestling practice.

The ground version would be winning by submitting your opponent.

Which is very similar to modern mixed martial arts. The main aim of Pankration was to force the opponent into submission, and the sport was centered around this goal.

It didn’t stop the sport from having knockouts occur, though. The sport also had leg and body kicks as a big part of forcing fatigue onto the opponent into giving up.

Why did pankration die out?

Some say that pankration died out due to the mixed combat elements of the sport being spread out and separated over time. The Boxing element of the sport was adopted by the English, while the Greeks preference stayed with wrestling.

English Boxing vs Greek Wrestling

In recent years, mixed martial arts has become the leader in ultimate combat sports, whereby inspiration and techniques are taken from all forms of fighting.

Original Pankration as an Olympic sport may have died out. However, pankration is still honored in combat sports tournaments, with some adjustments to make it a safer competition.

Does pankration still exist?

Pankration still exists in modern modified versions, and competition occurs in the World Combat Games and promotions like Modern Fighting Pankration with adjustments to the rules.

World Combat Games

World Combat games are like the Olympics but with only martial art events.

It aims to showcase combat arts to preserve and maintain martial arts practice. This includes the old forgotten ones like Pankration. 

With the World Combat Game’s goal, they hope that young people decide to learn Pankration and continue to keep the sport alive. 

World Combat games were first held in Beijing, China. Hundreds of countries joined the event. But it was Russians who came out to have the toughest fighters.

Russia hosted the following World Combat Games. Again, they proved that Russians are built differently when it comes to fighting. 

The next World Combat games are expected to be held in Saudi Arabia in 2023. 

Modern Fighting Pankration

Modern Fighting Pankration is a fighting promotion. It focuses on arranging bouts for Pankratists only. 

MFP was founded by Jim Arvanitis. He is a Greek-American combat athlete. Arvanitis started the organization to revive the dying martial art of Pankration. 

Arvanitis pioneered the Modern day Pankration that we know today. He spent countless nights studying ancient Pankration.

As a fruit of his dedication, he formulated new rules and regulations for the sport. This marks the beginning of the ancient Pankration’s modern-day evolution. 

Today, MFP organizes Pankration events regularly. MFP Pankratists fight inside a circular cage, just like ONE Championship MMA fighters. 

Watching it for the first time will make you question whether you’re watching an MMA or Pankration match. 

Final say on pankration’s beginnings

Pankration has come a long way from what it was before. It depicts the true meaning of fighting in ancient times, where you’ll prove that you’re a stronger man than your opponent.

Today, Pankration evolved into a much safer sport. It now focuses more on discipline and sportsmanship. 

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