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Combat Sports in the Ancient World: Competition, Violence, and Culture (Sports and History Series) Paperback – April 26, 1995

4.4 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Poliakoff is deputy secretary of education.
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Product Details

  • Series: Sports and History Series
  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Revised ed. edition (April 26, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300063121
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300063127
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #403,081 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Poliakoff gives a thorough overview of the three combat sports of the ancient Olympics (wrestling, boxing, & pankration), their rules, the training involved, and the attitudes of the Ancients towards those sports. He speaks briefly of Egyptian stick fighting, but the dearth of ancient literature on the subject means he can treat it only superficially.

In addition to describing the sports, Poliakoff gives biographies of some of the more famous practitioners and voices some opinions about the usefulness of combat sports to the body politic, especially in the field of athletics.

In his exposition, Poliakoff sometimes dismisses as fantastical legend some feats which are achievable by well trained athletes. For example, he expresses grave doubts about the tradition that the wrestler Milo of Kroton could lift and carry a bull. In the mid-20th century there was a carnival performer, H.E. Mann, who lifted and carried a bull as a part of his act. Mann's act was inspired by Milo. Poliakoff neglects to mention that Milo is credited as the father of "progressive resistance" weight training. Milo began with a calf and lifted it daily until it became full grown. H.E. Mann trained for his carnival act exactly as Milo did, beginning with a calf and lifting it daily until it became full grown. One of the USA's earliests vendors of weight training equipment was the Milo Barbell Company.

Poliakoff takes a dim view of the savagery involved in ancient combat sports and sees no correlation between the combat sports and actual military service. Although Poliakoff seeks to show that excellent combat athletes make poor soldiers, he does cite numerous counter examples to his position. It seems ancient Greek history is full of individuals who distinguished themselves both in the games and on the battlefield.

Notwithstanding Poliakoff's anti-combat-sports agenda, the book is an informative and enjoyable reading experience.
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By A Customer on February 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book effectively shows that ancient sports were
also about the rough and tumble and agony, as well
as the skill, courage, and cleverness. The book
is a complete survey including information about
ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, but primarily focuses
on Greek and Roman sports and venues.
As the author, Michael Poliakoff, says in Chapter
I, "General Aspects of the Ancient Combat Sports,"
"Boxing, wrestling, and pankration, a sport that
allowed a variety of unarmed fighting tactics, were
the three important forms of combat sport in the
ancient world. *** The element of fighting makes
combat sports easy to mark off as a group; more
difficult is settling on a definition of sport in
general. I define sport and athletics in this book
as activity in which a person physically competes
against another in a contest with established
regulations and procedures, with the immediate
object of succeeding in that contest under criteria
for determining victory that are different from those
that mark success in everyday life."
The chapters of the book are: General Aspects of
the Ancient Combat Sports/ Wrestling/ Pankration/
Stick Fighting/ Boxing/ The Nature and Purpose of
Combat Sport/ The Participants in Greek Combat
Sport/ Metaphor, Myth, and Reality/ as well as
an Appendix titled "Combat Sport, Funeral Cult,
and Human Sacrifice."
The book is very well illustrated throughout
the text with photographs from vases, drinking
cups, statues, Egyptian wall paintings and
sculptures, a photo of a Greek wrestling
manuscript, and a modern photo of Nuba wrestlers
in the Sudan.
Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Fans of modern day Pankration, as in the UFC, Pride and other such events, will be fascinated to read of the close parallels between the ancient and modern versions in terms of technique, match style as well as audience reception. Many of the same issues facing the sport today were dealt with by the ancients.

More important perhaps is what is revealed regarding the importance and effectiveness of combat sports outside the competitive arena. Poliakoff quotes Homer, Alexander and others to make the point that boxing, wrestling and pankration may not be so effective in producing an effective warrior. Alexander, for instance, didn't approve of boxing and wrestling but did favor stick fighting. Champion athletes in the Iliad are cowardly in battle. The Romans blame the Greek love of "games" on their decline.

Scholarly, readable, relevant.
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Format: Paperback
An exciting book about a fascinating (yet brutal) subject. This book covers various combat sports from ancient times, and discusses how the fighters trained and fought, as well as the role that combat sports played during the time. The vivid description of what the fighters endured and the injuries they received is almost enough to make you wince with pain. There are many photographs, which are usually of wrestling, boxing, or pankration depictions on ancient vases. Each photograph is accompanied by a short explanation of what is depicted. This is especially helpful since it can be difficult to make out what is depicted in the pottery art of the time if you aren't familiar with it. It was also helpful that the author included references to various images throughout the text, by referring the reader to look at a photo on a different page to get a better understanding of something.

The description of Olympic and other combat events and techniques make it feel as if you could be there watching it.

A few of the most interesting parts were:
-the mention of Theogenes of Thasos (an ancient Greek Olympian), who was the subject of an excellent novel by E.S. Kraay, titled "The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas".
-the numerous anecdotes and biographies of Olympian fighters
-the duel between Dioxippos (a Greek pankrationist) and Koragos (of the Macedonian army), which was fascinating enough to warrant further reading elsewhere

Contents:
-List of Illustrations
-Acknowledgments
-Introduction
-I. General Aspects of the Ancient Combat Sports (Definitions, Similarities Among the Combat Sports, Training, The Athletic Festivals, Organization of Competition)
-II. Wrestling (The Fall, Rules, Belt Wrestling, Wrestling Techniques)
-III.
Read more ›
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