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See also Smith's article Pugilatus.

 p857  Pancratium

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on pp857‑858 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

PANCRA′TIUM (παγκράτιον) is composed of πᾶν and κράτος, and accordingly signifies an athletic game, in which all the powers of the fighter were called into action. The pancratium was one of the games or gymnastic contests which were exhibited at all the great festivals of Greece; it consisted of boxing and wrestling (πυγμὴ and πάλη), and was reckoned to be one of the heavy or hard exercises (ἀγωνίσματα βαρέα or βαρύτερα), on account of the violent exertions it required, and for this reason it was not much practised in the gymnasia; and where it was practised, it was probably not without modifications to render it easier for the boys. According to the ancient physicians it had very rarely a beneficial influence upon health (H. Mercurial. De Art. Gymnast. V.7).

At Sparta the regular pancratium was forbidden, but the name was there applied to a fierce and irregular fight not controlled by any rules, in which even biting and scratching were not uncommon, and in which, in short, every thing was allowed by which one of the parties might hope to overcome the other. In Homer we neither find the game nor the name of the pancratium mentioned, and as it was not introduced at the Olympic games until Ol. 33 (Paus. V.8 §3), we may presume that the game, though it may have existed long before in a rude state, was not brought to any degree of perfection until a short time before that event. It is scarcely possible to speak of an inventor of the pancratium, as it must have gradually arisen out of a rude mode of fighting, which is customary among all uncivilized nations, and which was kept up at Sparta in its original state. But the Greeks regarded Theseus as the inventor of the pancratium, who for want of a sword was said to have used this mode of fighting against the Minotaurus (Schol. ad Pind. Nem. V.89). Other legends represented Heracles as having been victor in the pancratium (Paus. V.8 §1; Hygin. Fab. 273), and later writers make other heroes also fight the pancratium (Lucan, Pharsal. IV.613, &c.); but these are mere fictions. After the pancratium was once introduced at Olympia, it soon found its way also into the other great games of Greece, and in the times of the Roman emperors we also find it practised in Italy. In Ol. 145 the pancratium for boys was introduced at the Olympic games, and the first boy who gained the victory was Phaedimus, a native of a town in Troas (Paus. V.8, in fin.). This innovation had been adopted before in others of the national games, and in the 61st Pythiad (Ol. 108), we find a Theban boy of the name of Olaides as victor in the pancratium in the Pythian games (Paus. X.7 §3). At the Isthmian games the pancratium for boys is not mentioned till the reign of Domitian (Corsini, Dissert. Agon. p101); but this may be merely accidental, and the game may have been practised long before that time.

Philostratus (Imag. II.6) says that the pancratium of men was the most beautiful of all athletic contests; and the combatants must certainly have shown to the spectators a variety of beautiful and exciting spectacles, as all the arts of boxing and wrestling appeared here united (Aristot. Rhet. I.5; Plut. Sympos. II. p638C). The combatants in the pancratium did not use the cestus, or if they did, it was the ἵμαντες μαλακώτεροι [Cestus], so that the hands remained free, and wounds were not easily inflicted.

The name of these combatants was pancratiastae (παγκρατιασταί) or πάμμαχοι (Pollux III.30.5). They fought naked, and had their bodies anointed and covered with sand, by which they were enabled to take hold of one another (Philostr. l.c.; Aristoph. Pax, 848). In cases where the contests of the pancratiastae were not regulated by strict rules, it might, as in Sparta, sometimes happen, that the fighters made use of their teeth and nails (Philostr. l.c.; Lucian, Demonax, c49; Plut. Lac. Apophth. p234D); but such irregularities probably did not occur at any of the great public games.

When two pancratiastae began their contest, the first object which each of them endeavoured to accomplish, was to gain a favourable position, each trying to make the other stand so that the sun might shine in his face, or that other inconveniences might prevent his fighting with success. This struggle (ἀγὼν περὶ τῆς στάσεως, Aeschin. c. Ctesiph. p83, ed. Steph.) was only the introduction to the real contest, though in certain cases this preparatory struggle might terminate the whole game, as one of the parties might wear out the other by a series of stratagems, and compel him to give up further resistance. Sostratus of Sicyon had gained many a victory by such tricks (Paus. VI.4 §1). When the real contest began, each of the fighters might commence by boxing or by wrestling, accordingly as he thought he should be more successful in the one than in the other. The victory was not decided until one of the parties was killed, or lifted up a finger, thereby declaring that he was unable to continue the contest either from pain or fatigue (Faber, Agonist. I.8). It usually happened that one of the combatants, by some trick or other, made his antagonist fall to the ground, and the wrestling, which then commenced, was called ἀνακλινοπάλη, and continued until one of the parties declared himself conquered or was strangled, as was the case at Olympia with Arrhichion or Arrachion of Phigalia, in Ol. 54 (Paus. VIII.40 §1, &c.; Euseb. Chron. p150, Scalig.). A lively description of a struggle of this kind is given by Philostratus (l.c.). Sometimes one of  p858 the fighters fell down on his back on purpose that he might thus ward off the attacks of his antagonist more easily, and this is perhaps the trick called ὑπτιασμός. The usual mode of making a person fall was to put one foot behind his, and then to push him backward, or to seize him round his body in such a manner that the upper part being the heavier the person lost his balance and fell. Hence the expressions μέσον λαμβάνειν, μεσολαβεῖν, μέσον αἱρεῖν, τὰ μέσα ἔχειν, διὰ μηρῶν σπᾷν, &c. (Scalig. ad Euseb. Chron. p48). The annexed woodcut represents two pairs of Pancratiastae; the one on the right hand is an example of the ἀνακλινοπάλη, and that on the left of the μεσολαβεῖν. They are taken from Krause's Gymnastik und Agonistik d. Hellen. Taf. XXI.b Fig. 35b, 31b, where they are copied respectively from Grivaud, Rec. d. Mon. Ant. vol. I pl. 20, 21, and Krause, Signorum vet. icones, tab. 10.

[image ALT: An engraving of two pairs of men wrestling. The one on the left shows one man standing and holding the other upside-down; on the right, one man has the other in a lock on the ground. They are illustrations of the ancient Graeco-Roman sport of pancratium.]

At Rome the pancratium is first mentioned in the games which Caligula gave to the people (Dion Cass. LIX.13). After this time it seems to have become extremely popular, and Justinian (Novell. CV. c1, provided πάγκαρπον be, as some suppose, a mistake for παγκράτιον) made it one of the seven solemnities (πρόοδοι) which the consuls had to provide for the amusement of the people.

Several of the Greek pancratiastae have been immortalised in the epinician odes of Pindar, namely Timodemus of Athens (Nem. II), Melissus and Strepsiades of Thebes (Isth. III and VI), Aristoclides, Cleander and Phylacides of Aegina (Nem. III, Isth. IV, V and VI), and a boy Pytheas of Aegina (Nem. V). But beside these the names of a great many other victors in the pancratium are known. (Compare Fellows, Discoveries in Lycia, p313, Lond. 1841).

The diet and training of the pancratiastae was the same as that of other Athletae. [Athletae.]

(Compare Hieron. Mercurialis, de Arte Gymnastica; J. H. Krause, Die Gymnastik und Agonistik der Hellenen, vol. I pp534‑556.)

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