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Ancient Pankration – Combat Sport of Ancient Greece

Pankration was an Ancient Greek no-holds-barred martial art combining aspects of boxing and wrestling, introduced in the Greek Olympic games in 648 BC.  


Pankration (Greek: παγκράτιον) was a combat sport introduced into the 33rd Olympic Games in 648 BC.  Although the sport can be traced as far back as the second millennium BCE in the territory of ancient Greece.  Pankration translates as ‘all of power’ from the greek words πᾶν (pan) ‘all’ and κράτος (kratos) ‘strength, might, power’.

Pankration athletes utilised boxing, kicking, and grappling methods, as well as wrestling elements such as locks and chokeholds. In many ways, it was similar to modern Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).  However, unlike MMA, Pankration had very few rules, it was literally a no-holds, barred competition.  Indeed, the sport was infamous for its ferocity with such tactics as knees to the head and eye-gouging.  Severe injuries and death were very common.  


One ancient account tells of a situation in which the judges were trying to determine the winner of a match. The difficulty lay in the fact that both men had actually died in the arena from their injuries.  Eventually, the judges decided the winner was the one who didn’t have his eyes gouged out!  Over time, however, manoeuvres like eye gouging were discouraged to prevent such unpleasant incidents.

Pankration was categorized into the ‘heavy games.’ section of the Olympics.  The heavy games were a special group of sports reserved for the best athletes with the greatest strength and stamina.

Greek culture. Greek history. Ancient civilisations. Ancient civilizations.

The ancient Hellenic city states (Now Greece or Hellas as it’s known to its inhabitants) home to the brutal granddaddy of Western fighting art known as Pankration.

Pankration constituted an integral part of all major and local athletic contests in the Classical and Roman periods, from Italy to Anatolia and from the Black Sea to Egypt.

All About Ancient Pankration

Click on the links below for an insights into this ancient Pankrations history, characteristics, rules and its influence on modern combat sports.


Ancient Pankration was the first example (that we know of) of an organised and regulated, combat sport where both striking and wrestling methods were employed.  Pankration included a wide range of savage and often lethal techniques.  It is perceived as the brutal ancestor of the sport we would later come to know as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).  Thankfully, throughout the centuries, savagery in combat sports has decreased whilst the healthy spirit of competition element is still there.


Pankration was certainly not limited to the Greek and Roman spheres.  Indeed it spread outside the Eastern Mediterranean basin throughout the Hellenistic Period (between 323 B.C. – 31 B.C). and reached Asia via the military campaigns of Alexander the Great.  Some enthusiasts and scholars believe it may have influenced martial arts found within the Indian geographical area. (And so indirectly influenced other later emerging Martial arts in the far east throughout the centuries).  There is little doubt that Alexander’s influence contributed to the interchange of ideas and techniques and inspired many parts of the world in all eras.  However, not enough research has been done to back up Pankration influencing other martial arts claims.  As such, at present, these claims remain little more than speculation. 

Bas Ruten. Pancrase. MMA. Pankration.
islam makhachev. UFC MMA. Pankration.

Mixed Martial Arts Organisations such as Pancrase in Japan and UFC in the US acknowledge MMA’s ancestry with the ancient Greek sport of Pankration.

Despite its brutal origins, the influence ancient pankration had on modern combat sports is evident. Organisations such as Japan’s ‘Pancrase’ pay homage to this legacy. Modern MMA fighters and organisers also acknowledge this link. Indeed many view themselves as modern-day gladiators who would have practised ‘Pancratium’ (the Roman version of the Greek sport).  A primal version of MMA.  Combat sports no longer involve eye-gouging (thankfully).  The barbarism of the past having being traded for stricter rules and regulations.  Fighters in modern times live to tell the tale and their injuries are well looked after. Combat sports have come a long way since the matches in the skamma and Panhellenic games.  They provide a stark contrast between old and new sports.  As such, it remains a unique part of combat sports history and demonstrates its evolution into the professionally ran and regulated events they are today.

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