The ancient history of wrestling

 
 

There are games and martial arts which have been around for centuries, but it is safe and fair to say that wrestling is one of the oldest types of combat. There’s a debate as to whether wrestling is a sport or a martial art, but we can actually say that it is a both a martial art and a sport.

The history of wrestling is older than the most other sports and martial arts that we know of, not to mention that wrestling didn’t change significantly in thousands of years. Sure, there are many games that are quite old and there are such where the rules have remained pretty much the same or at least similar for many years, but not a lot of games have remained almost identical over the years.

Even if we take number games, or card games where there aren’t a lot of options for change, we’ll notice that the games evolve over the years. Let’s take bingo for instance. Even it has been around for less than five centuries, so a lot less than wrestling, the game has changed significantly over the years, especially since the first online bingo sites were launched and many new variants have appeared since then. Let’s get back to wrestling though.

Wrestling is mentioned in numerous ancient books

The history of wrestling begins about 15,000 years ago. That’s right, not 1,500 years ago, but ten times earlier. Wrestling is depicted on a number of cave drawings from prehistory. There are drawings from Egypt and Babylon which show wrestlers doing moves and mastering holds that are still used in modern wrestling and that is the key argument used when discussing the history of wrestling.

All these drawings show us that wrestling is the same sport, or martial art as it was many centuries ago, but let’s see at how wrestling has progressed over the years. The first sources that we can use to trace back the history of this ancient art are, believe it or not, religious books and holy scriptures.

The Bible and the Indian Vedas both feature instances of wrestling. The wrestling fight between Patriarch Jacob and an angel is mentioned in the Bible. These aren’t the only two ancient scriptures where the practice of wrestling is recorded, Ramayana and Mahabharata also include instances of wrestling. For instance, a wrestling match between Bhima and Jarasandha, both accomplished wrestlers, is described.

Graeco-Roman wrestling and how it came about

However, as we can get lost if we try to look at all instances where wrestling is mentioned in all ancient scriptures and books, we would get completely lost. The line of modern wrestling originates from Ancient Greece. As you know one of the most popular types of wrestling nowadays is known as Graeco-Roman wrestling. Graeco-Roman wrestling came about when traditional Greek wrestling was incorporated in Roman culture.

Graeco-Roman wrestling is one of the dominant and main forms of wrestling nowadays and one of the two variants that’s featured at the Olympics. Graeco-Roman fights were featured at the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and it has been an Olympic discipline since 1908.

The main characteristic of this type of wrestling is that it is illegal to grab the opponent below the waist. Typically, Graeco-Roman tournaments are direct elimination with the number of wrestlers being divisible by four. It is interesting to note that this style never gained popularity in the UK or the US, freestyle wrestling reigned and still reigns supreme in the Western English-speaking world.

It is fair to say that the actual style of wrestling that was practiced in Ancient Greece is quite different, but wrestling was the first discipline that’s not a footrace to be added to the Olympic Games. Milo of Croton was one of the most popular wrestles of Ancient Greece, but it is hard to tell if he is as popular as some of our modern-day WWE fighters.