Boxing History

Fist fighting is depicted in Sumerian relief carvings from the 3rd millennium BC, while an ancient Egyptian relief from the 2nd millenium BC depicts both fist-fighters and spectators. Both depictions show bare-fisted contests. In 1927 Dr. E. A. Speiser, an archaeologist, discovered a Mesopotamian stone tablet in Baghdad, Iraq depicting two men getting ready for a prize fight.


The tablet is believed to be 7,000 years old. Fist-fighting or boxing is also described in several ancient Indian texts such as the Vedas, Ramayana and Mahabharata. Evidence was also found in excavations at the Indus Valley cities of Mohenjadaro and Harappa. The earliest evidence for fist fighting with a kind of gloves can be found on Minoan Crete (c. 1500-900 BC), and on Sardinia, if we consider the boxing statues of Prama mountains (2000-1000 BC).

The lebo and the Etruscans called boxing pugilism (a term now synonymous with boxing). The Greeks and Etruscans were not the first to give rules to the sport, if we consider Mediterranean peoples who preceded them, such as the Shardana and the Egyptians. In the Mediterranean area while clinching was strictly forbidden, there were (unlike in modern boxing) no weight classes.


Fights were not separated into rounds and had no time limit. They ended at a knockout, or at a fighter abandoning the fight, or sometimes at the death of one of the fighters. Although gloves were used in practice, in competition fighters wrapped their hands in strips of hardened leather which protected the fist and caused unpleasant injuries for the opponent.

Homer's Iliad (ca. 675 BC) contains the first detailed account of a boxing fight (Book XXIII). According to the Iliad, Mycenaean warriors included boxing among their competitions honoring the fallen (ca. 1200 BC), though it is possible that the Homeric epics reflect later culture. Another legend holds that the heroic ruler Theseus, said to have lived around the 9th century BC, invented a form of boxing in which two men sat face to face and beat each other with their fists until one of them was killed. In time, the boxers began to fight while standing and wearing gloves (with spikes) and wrappings on their arms below the elbows, although otherwise they competed naked.

Boxing was first accepted as an Olympic sport in 688 BC, being called Pygme or Pygmachia. Participants trained on punching bags (called a korykos). Fighters wore leather straps (called himantes) over their hands, wrists, and sometimes breast, to protect them from injury. The straps left their fingers free. Legend had it that the Spartans were the first to box as a way to prepare for sword and shield fighting.