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The art of boxing, whereby two people enter a contest to see who can withstand the most punches from the other, dates back at least as far as the earliest civilisations and is probably one of the oldest sports of its kind in the history of fighting. Due to its simplicity, it can be speculated that even in the pre-civilized world, men would enter into such contests and over time it developed into a sport, with rudimentary rules and the use of equipment.

The god of boxing in ancient Greece was Apollo, (who was also the god of archery among other things) who was said to practice a form of the sport known as pyx (with clenched fist). Pyx was introduced to the ancient Olympic Games in 688 BCE where opponents were only allowed to punch. Other forms of attack such as grappling, biting and gouging were prohibited though it is hotly debated if kicking was allowed in ancient Greek boxing.

The object of pyx was to either knock out the opponent or force him to submit, which was indicated with a raised index finger. The fight would continue until a submission or knock out was achieved; in this particularly vicious version of ancient boxing, there were no rounds and participants could keep punching even if their opponent was knocked to the floor. A soft dirt pit known as a “skamma” was used to fight in and a referee oversaw the bout, carrying a switch to whip any fighter that broke the rules or stepped out of line. While these contests were brutal affairs, a fighter would still need high levels of training, skill and courage to make it as an ancient Greek boxer.

Pyx seems to have been basically akin to modern boxing though in place of boxing gloves, their wrists and knuckles would often be wrapped in straps known as “himantes”, which were made from ox hide and were designed to protect the boxer’s hands.

After the fourth century BCE these were replaced with so-called sharp thongs that served the same purpose and consisted of a thick strip of leather. Different fighters seemed to use these straps in different ways, some covering much of the hands while others just used them as support for the wrist. While they were probably used mainly for protecting the boxer’s hand, when covering the knuckle, the leather would also cut into an opponent when he was hit causing far more damage than if they were hit from a fighter using the himantes, sometimes also called softer thongs. It is interesting to note that as with most sporting contests in the ancient Olympic Games , boxers would be completely naked (apart from the hand/wrist covering they wore).

Cleomedes of Astypalaea was a boxing legend and a famous Greek athlete from the fifth century BCE. While competing in a boxing event at an ancient Olympic Games, he killed his opponent and was disqualified. Feeling hard done by, Cleomedes went into a rage and pulled down a pillar that supported the roof of a school killing sixty children. Soon, an angry mob chased him but somehow he managed to disappear. Not knowing what to do, they sent an envoy to Delphi where the Pythian priestess told them that the man who had murdered their children was no longer mortal. From then on, the people of Astypalaeans honored Cleomedes as a hero, offering up sacrifices to him and praising him as a demi-god.

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