Journal of Combative Sport, July 2010
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Boxing Gloves of the Ancient World

Copyright Steven Ross Murray 2010. All rights reserved.

Boxing has a long, storied history. Its origins can be traced as far back as ancient Mesopotamia, where a terracotta relief was discovered that depicts men boxing (Figure 1). Surely, though, boxing is much older, given the fact that the act of striking another with one's fist is simply a basic defensive (as well as offensive) mechanism for survival. Little imagination is necessary to envision how the rudimentary nature of striking could evolve into training activities for hunting and warfare, and, eventually, into an organized sport such as boxing. With any sport's development, however, the use of specialized equipment occurs, and the equipment, too, begins to evolve over time. The literary and archaeological evidence, left by the ancients, provides much detail about boxing in antiquity, especially the type of equipment, particularly the glove (or lack thereof), that was used. The purpose of this paper is to describe the development of the boxing glove in the ancient world, summarizing the major types of gloves used.


Figure 1. Terracotta plaque of wrestlers and boxers. Khafaji, Nintu Temple, Early dynastic Period, 3000-2340 B.C.E., Iraq Museum, Baghdad.
Source: Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/pankration (Pankration Research Institute's photostream; used with permission).

Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Minoan and Mycenaean Civilizations

One of the earliest depictions of boxing in antiquity appears in a relief, found in Eshnunna (modern-day Tell Asram, Iraq), of two Mesopotamians from the early third or second millennium
B.C.E., (Figure 2). The two boxers, sporting beards and wearing tunics, are facing each other with their arms bent and fists clinched; each is ready to deliver or to defend a blow. Neither is wearing gloves, but both are fitted with some type of band worn around the wrist, presumably for anatomical support. Another terracotta tablet, c. 1200 B.C.E., found in a tomb at Sinkara (modern-day Tell as-Senkereh, Iraq) pictures two men presumptively boxing to musical accompaniment, but that conclusion is open to interpretation (Figure 3) [EN1]. Both men are wearing caps and tunics, but neither is wearing boxing gloves. If these men, indeed, are boxing, they are doing so bare fisted.

Figure 2 Mesopotamian Boxers 3rd-2nd BCE
Figure 2. Terracotta relief of two Mesopotamian boxers, c. 2000 B.C.E. from Eshnunna, (Modern-day Tell Asram, Iraq).
Source: Erich Lessing / Art
Resource, NY; used with permission.


Figure 3. Terracotta relief depicting two men boxing to musical
accompaniment, c. 1200 B.C.E., Sinkara (modern-day Tell as Senkereh, Iraq).
Source: Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/pankration (Pankration Research
Institute's photostream; used with permission).

Egyptian boxers, too, seemed to fight bare fisted, as a relief from Thebes, c. 1350 B.C.E., shows three pairs of men directly squaring off in boxing matches (Figure 4). The men are clothed only in loincloths. The event being chronicled seems to be important, as the men are purportedly performing for the pharaoh [EN2]. Oddly, one man in the third pair of boxers from the left, seems to be throwing punches simultaneously with both hands while his adversary uses his forearm to block them. The awkward stance of the punch-throwing boxer has some scholars suggesting that these men are actually dancers, but their juxtaposition beside two men stick fighting refutes this interpretation [EN3]. Moreover, the hieroglyphics on the relief next to the boxers have been translated to read as “Hit!,” “Hit, hit!,” and “You have no opponent,” thus removing all doubt that these men are boxers [EN4].

Figure 4 Relief in Tomb of Kheruef
Figure 4. Egyptian boxers and stick fighters, c. 1350 B.C.E., from the Tomb of Kheruef, Thebes, Egypt.
Source: Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of The University of Chicago, used with permission.

The Minoans seem to be the first civilization to employ the use of boxing gloves. A relief on a drinking vessel called the “Boxer Vase” from Hagia Triada, c. 1500 B.C.E., depicts several scenes of combative or ceremonial activities (Figure 5). The conical rhyton, made of black soapstone, is decorated with four sections of reliefs. The top level of the vase is decorated with five men, of whom two are directly engaging in a fist fight; one is throwing a punch to his opponent's head while the other is countering with a body shot. The three other boxers—if they are, in fact, boxers, seem to be watching the other two in action, as they are facing the same direction, with one kneeling, as if to give the other two a better view; all are separated from the two fighting figures by a column. The second section pictures two bulls running, with one having gored a man—who is still attached to the bull's horn—and most definitely signifies some homage to the extremely dangerous, yet seemingly ubiquitous, activity of bull-leaping [EN5]. The third section represents several boxers. Although the original vase has suffered extensive damage, the men pictured seem to be equipped with an object covering the back of their hands, starting at the wrist, but secured with some kind of strap. Unlike modern boxing gloves—which are padded to provide protection for the small bones in the hand as well as for the combatant who is receiving the blow—these objects seem to be designed to produce extensive damage to one's opponent. The artist's depiction of the boxers wearing helmets and arm guards speaks to the potential brutality of the activity being portrayed, and it reinforces the idea that these boxing “gloves” are primarily an offensive weapon designed to inflict physical damage through blunt force, as there is no sign that a sharpened edge is being employed. We have no way of knowing the rules of this activity, and we cannot tell definitively if these men are fighting mano a mano or on teams. Nevertheless, it is clear that these men are engaged in some kind of contest or ceremony. The bottom level of the vase has a number of men engaged in a combative event of some sort, but again, we have no idea of the specific rules or the intended purpose of the activity. Several of the men seem to be holding knives and possibly using them against other men, who are lying on their backs or sitting on their buttocks and attempting to kick up at their respective adversaries. The scene is so perplexing that some scholars even have labeled the combatants as wrestlers [EN6], but I definitely would not classify them that way, even with the broadest of interpretations. It seems, to me, that the pictured combatants are caricatures of either some sort of militaristic training or an elaborate pictorial of what we, today, would call a knife fight.

Figure 5 Boxer Vase Color
Figure 5. “Boxer Vase” from Hagia Triada and drawing, c. 1500 B.C.E.
Source: Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/pankration (Pankration Research Institute's
photostream; used with permission).


Figure 6. The “Boxing Boys,” fresco from Thera (modern-day Santorini), c.
1600 B.C.E.
Source: The Thera Foundation at www.therafoundation.org/ akrotiri/buildingbeta/boxingboysroombeta1southwall/view.

Probably the most famous evidence for Minoan boxing is a fresco from the island of Thera (modern-day Santorini) at Akrotiri, c. 1600 B.C.E., aptly called the “Boxing Boys” (Figure 6) [EN7]. Two boys are shown boxing [EN8]. Interestingly, both are wearing only one glove on the right hand, but the damage to the fresco is too extensive to draw any real conclusion as to the makeup and construction of the glove. All that can be ascertained positively is that the glove extended proximally, from the wrist, roughly one-third up the forearm and that it was attached by some type of band, presumably fabric or leather. The covering of the fist itself is lost to antiquity, but the artist who filled in the fresco imagined that the glove was enclosed and of cylindrical shape. We have no way of knowing if the glove had open fingers, as one gloved hand is too damaged (but a small section of the fresco suggests that the glove may have been enclosed), and the other is occluded by one participant's head.

Figure 7. Mycenaean vase 1300-1200 BCE
Figure 7. Mycenaean amphora shard depicting two boxers, c. 1300 B.C.E.
Source: Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/pankration (Pankration Research
Institute's photostream; used with permission).

A fragmented Mycenaean amphora, c. 1300 B.C.E., pictures what must be two boxers preparing for competition (Figure 7). Both combatants are facing each other in the traditional athletic position, with legs bent, readying each participant for quick, evasive movements. The only truly odd feature of the artwork is that the two combatants are pictured with both arms outstretched—which is pragmatically curious, but probably just a result of artistic license—as outstretched arms would be rather inefficient in a skilled, boxing match. In all likelihood, however, the men pictured on this pottery shard are boxers, as their hands are most definitely covered in some sort of boxing glove. Unfortunately, the artistic rendering is simply too vague to provide us with the specific details of the physical makeup of the boxing gloves.

Figure 8 Greek boxer surrendering
Figure 8. Boxer surrendering by raising one finger, Greek amphora painting, c. 500 B.C.E.
Source: Flickr at www.flickr.com/ photos/pankration (Pankration Research Institute's photostream; used with permission).

Ancient Greece

The era for which we have ample information to draw numerous conclusions about boxing and its concomitant equipment is ancient Greece. The ancient Greeks left us numerous inscriptions, literary references, and a myriad of sculptures and amphorae to understand a great deal about ancient boxing (pyx).

We can summarize the essence of ancient Greek boxing with the following inscription from from the first century
B.C.E.:

A boxer's victory is gained in blood [EN9].

A modern-day boxer would be horrified by the rules on ancient Greek boxing. A boxing bout involved no weight classes and no rounds—and thus no mandatory breaks—and to win a boxer must either knock out his opponent or force him to submit; one would signal capitulation ad digitum by raising a single finger (Figure 8). The bouts were generally fought in a softened, dirt pit (skamma), with an official overseeing the contests. It is interesting to note that the officials supervising the boxing carried a long, forked switch that they would use to whip any athlete who violated the rules. The rules were fairly simple and straightforward: no clinching, scratching, or biting [EN10]. Other than that, it was essentially a free for all, but scholars still debate if kicking were allowed [EN11].

To say these boxing matches were gentlemanly contest would be completely wrong; these fights were for glory and immortality, especially if they were at one of the crown games such as those held at Olympia. However, to characterize boxing as an event for a mindless thug would be incorrect. A boxer had to be highly trained, well-conditioned, and extremely skillful. Poliakoff [EN12] writes:

To say that victory in ancient boxing depended on brutality alone would be a great exaggeration, for the sport required a high degree of skill and strategy in addition to courage and fortitude.

An interesting note about Greek boxing, as was with most sport in ancient Greece, is that the athletes competed in the nude. The only article of “clothing” that the Greek boxers typically would wear would be their boxing “gloves.”

Greek boxing gloves were termed himantes (singular: himas), and they were modified over time. The first Greek boxing gloves, called “thongs” (ίμάντες), were nothing more than tanned, leather straps—estimated to be roughly four meters in length [EN13]—which were wrapped around the wrists and hands in deliberate and intricate fashions (Figure 9). There seems to be little consistency in how the boxers fitted their hands with the thongs, though. Some would wrap their wrists and hands completely, creating what the ancients described as something club-like (Figure 10).

Boxers' himantes of leather were wrapped around their hands to make them better for striking and to hold the fingers together, binding them stiffly into a round shape, like some sort of club [EN14].

Figure 9 tongs
Figure 9. Greek boxer applying his “soft thongs” to his hand and wrist, 520-500 B.C.E.
Source: Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/pankration
(Pankration Research Institute's photostream; used with permission).

Not every fighter wrapped his entire wrists and hands. Some used the thongs simply as braces for the wrists; while others would even leave a single hand completely unwrapped (Figure 11). It seems, then, that the primary purposes for the thongs were to support the wrists and to provide some modest protection for the knuckles and the fingers. These facts suggest that the thongs were designed to be a defensive, and not an offensive, weapon. Nonetheless, it is clear that a secondary purpose of the thongs was to increase the severity of a blow, by cutting in to the skin of an opponent, and causing him to bleed. The noted professor of classics, Dr. Thomas Scanlon, states:

They wound leather straps, of rawhide leather, around their fists and up their arms, in order to increase the violence of the blow itself. The leather would actually cut in to the skin of the opponent. They would very often land a blow in the head, and there would be blood dripping all over, and they would fight on and on [EN15].

Figure 10 Boxers with full thongs
Figure 10. Greek boxers with “soft thongs” wrapped completely around both fists and wrists, c. 520-510 B.C.E. Source: The Trustees of the BritishMuseum, used with permission.

A perfect example of the damage that these leather straps could inflict is shown on ancient vase paintings (Figure 12). In the figure, the boxer on the right has several cuts on his left cheek, with blood flowing from them and down his face. It is obvious that the thongs increased the severity of a blow [EN16], and, without doubt, provided a useful, offensive weapon. In addition to the graphical examples of the potential damage that could be inflicted with the thongs, literary evidence, too, suggests that injuries to boxers were frequent and, often, quite severe.

O Augustus, this man Olympikos, as he now appears, used to have nose, chin, forehead, ears, and eyelids. But then he enrolled in the guild of boxers, with the result that he did not receive his share of his inheritance in a will. For in the lawsuit about the will his brother shows the judge a portrait of Olympikos, who was judged to be an imposter, bearing no resemblance to his own picture [EN17].

Figure 11 boxers with one hand open
Figure 11. Black figure amphora depicting two boxers with “soft thong” applied to only one hand, c. 500 B.C.E. Source: Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/pankration
(Pankration Research Institute's photostream; used with permission).

An added benefit of the thongs is that they allowed an ancient boxer to open and to close his fist at will, thus permitting him to use his hands more as defensive weapons: The boxer could reach out and try to catch or simply to block an incoming punch with his open hand. This technique is shown in vase paintings, leading one to think that it would be a legitimately successful tactic (Figure 13). Perhaps the best example of how a boxer used the ability to open and to close his fist freely is the example of Demoxenos of Syracuse. Pausanias writes:

And I know a similar story about what the judges of Argos did in the case of Kreugas from Epidamnos in boxing. For the Argos judges gave the prize of Nemea to Kreugas although he was dead, because his opponent, a Syracusan named Damoxenos, broke the special rules which the two athletes had agreed upon. For darkness was about to occur as they were fighting, and they agreed in the presence of the judges that each would submit to one blow from the other. The fighters in those days did not have the “sharp gloves,” extending up the wrists on both hands but they were fighting with the “soft gloves” with slim strips of rawhide from an ox, and they were crisscross around the hands in the old-fashioned manner. Well then, Kreugas struck his opponent on the face; Damoxenos then told Kreugas to raise his arm to protect his head, and when Kreugas did this, Damoxenos struck him under the ribcage with fingers stiff. Because of the pointed fingers and the force of the blow he drove his arm into the abdominal cavity of his opponent, seized the entrails, and tore them out. Kreugas expired on the spot, and the Argive judges disqualified Damoxenos because he had not followed the agreement, since instead of one blow he had used several against his opponent. They gave the victory to the deceased Kreugas and set up a statute in Argos, which in my day was located in the sanctuary of Lycian Apollo [EN18].

Figure 12 Thongs on wrists and knuckles
Figure 12. Particular of black figure cup showing boxer's face cut by “soft
thongs,” c. 409 B.C.E. Source: Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/pankration
(Pankration Research Institute's photostream; used with permission).

Irrespective of the possible embellishment here by Pausanias, it is fair to say, I think, that the ability to open and to close one's hand freely during a fight would affect the various techniques involved in the bouts, especially compared to a modern-day boxer. I would suspect some of the techniques employed in antiquity were similar to the fighting styles of today's mixed martial artists, particularly their stand-up, striking skills. It is important to note that the gloves used in mixed martial arts today are relatively thin, with modest padding, and allow the fighter to open and to close his hands with minimal restrictions. I would submit that history, once again, repeats itself, even though modern, mixed martial arts are more like the ancient pankration [EN19] than ancient boxing. The initial Greek thongs were used from the eighth to the fourth century B.C.E., yet later became known as “soft thongs” (μειλίχαι) [EN20].

Figure 13 vase
Figure 13. Amphora depicting two boxers fighting with open hands, c. 500
B.C.E. Source: Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/pankration (Pankration
Research Institute's photostream; used with permission).

Excessive sparring with thongs would be painful and, potentially, a career-ending experience. So, the ancient Greeks developed a practice glove called sphairai or episphairai (Figure 14). These gloves were designed to allow boxers to practice at full speed, yet to reduce substantially the chances of injury. Plato describes the purpose of sphairai thus:

In order to imitate as nearly as possible the fighting in the ring...we would put on sphairai so that we could practice striking and the avoidance of blows as much as possible [EN21].

Plutarch goes so far as to describe the blows received from these training gloves as “painless.”

For in the palaestra they put episphairai on the hands of the competitors, so that the bout may not have any serious consequences, since the blows are soft and painless [EN22].

While probably an exaggeration on Plutarch's part, compared to the thongs, the training gloves must have seemed like feather pillows.

Figure 14 practice gloves
Figure 14. Terracotta boxing caricature wearing padded, training gloves (sphairai).
Source: Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/pankration (Pankration Research Institute's photostream; used with permission).

Figure 15 Soft Thongs
Figure 15. Greek black figure amphora depicting a boxer adjusting his “softer thongs” with his teeth, waiting for his next bout, c. 336 B.C.E. Source: TheTrustees of the British Museum, used with permission.

A more cushioned, competitive glove (σφαίραι) was developed during the fourth century B.C.E. that was later termed “softer thongs” (ίμάντες μαλαχώτεροι) (Figure 15) [EN23]. These thongs were constructed by using a fleece under-layer—which made the gloves much softer—and it was secured to the forearms, wrists, and hands by leather straps. Note that the boxer in the figure is adjusting his thong by pulling on one of the leather bands with his teeth, apparently for an upcoming fight. These softer thongs must have been heavenly compared to the original thongs, but the reprieve was short lived. The softer thongs, ultimately, served as a precursor to an even more destructive glove, the “sharp thongs” (ίμάυτες), which were developed by adding a hardened piece of leather, serving as a cutting piece, that was interlaced with the other leather bands and placed across the knuckles of the fingers. It was some sort of primitive knuckleduster, and the sharp thongs replaced the softer thongs by the third century B.C.E. [EN24] One suspected reason for the change to the sharp thongs is simply for added brutality, so the excitement at the games could be enhanced and thus the crowd more easily placated. We must remember that it was during this period that the stadia at each of the sites for the Panhellenic games were enlarged and remodeled, so “the added danger of the cutting thongs may have been somewhat a crowd-pleasing attraction” [EN25]. Eventually, the sharp thong developed into a true glove, being much easier to put on and to remove, and had interwoven leather straps, securing the leather knuckleduster so that it would not shift on the hand while a boxer was delivering a blow. An excellent representation of the sharp thongs can be seen in the bronze statue of the Terme Boxer, c. first century B.C.E. (Figure 16). A close examination of the statue's face shows the destructive power of the sharp thongs. It appears the boxer has a broken nose and numerous cuts on his face and ears, with the accompanying swelling one would expect to see. The injurious nature of the thongs led to them earning an interesting nickname, myrmikes (ants), as it is believed, by some, to be a metaphorical reference that the thongs caused pock-marks and pain, much the way ants do when they burrow or sting [EN26]. Scanlon, however, believes that, “[d]uring the Imperial period the sharp thongs acquired the additional popular and humorous name “the ants” (μΰρμηκες) originally on account of their appearance” [EN27]—the enlarged fist being similar in shape to an ant's head, with the wrist and forearm resembling the tapered abdomen of an ant. Regardless of how the thongs earned their popular and ubiquitous moniker, they most definitely were physically destructive. One only needs to note the “cauliflower ears” of the Terme Boxer—and the artist's special attention to detail, showing the cuts in the ear and how they surely would have bled—to be convinced of the thong's destructive ability. The Terme Boxer leaves no doubt that the sport of boxing in ancient Greece was brutal and bloody, verifying the ancient quote, “A boxer's victory is gained in blood.”

Figure 16 Terme Boxer
Figure 16. Bronze statue of a seated boxer (“Terme Boxer”), 2nd or 1st century B.C.E., The National Museum of Rome. A composite of several images available at Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/pankration (Pankration ResearchInstitute's photostream; used with permission).

Ancient Rome

Greek boxing was, indeed, brutal, but it paled in comparison to the boxing (pugilatus) of the Romans. Initially, the Romans incorporated the sharp thongs of the Greeks for their boxers (figure 17), but they soon modified the sharp thongs, by replacing the leather knuckleduster with a metal insert, forming a glove known as a caestus (Figure 18) [EN28]. The Roman caestus was nothing less than a true, murderous weapon [EN29]. Scanlon states:

So it was almost more like a knife fight than a boxing match. There were very short careers, and there were people who were very successful, and then a lot of newcomers who kept getting stabbed, or actually, ruptured by the gloves [EN30].

Figure 17 Oil Lamps of Boxers
Figure 17. Two terracotta oil lamps depicting Roman boxers equipped with “sharp thongs,” c. 1st century C.E.
Source: Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/pankration (Pankration Research Institute's photostream; used with permission).

Figure 18 Roman Caestus
Figure 18. The Romans modified the Greek's “sharp thongs” by replacing the leather knuckleduster with metal inserts, forming the caestus, a truly dangerous weapon, c. 150 C.E.
Source: Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/pankration (Pankration Research Institute's photostream; used with permission).

Figure 19 Entellus and Bull
Figure 19. Mosaic depicting the famed match between Entellus and Dares of Virgil's Aeneid. Source: Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/pankration(Pankration Research Institute's photostream; used with permission).

Virgil references the brutal nature of the caestus in his fictional Aeneid [EN31]. He tells us of the Sicilian boxer named Entellus, who intended to fight with a pair of metal-laden gloves that previously had been used by his brother Eryx, evident by the fact that they were still “stained with blood and splattered brains” (sanguine cernis adhuc sparsoque infecta cerebro) [EN32]. His opponent, the Trojan, Dares, refused to fight until smaller, lighter gloves were used, so the sponsor of the match, Aeneas, complied with Dares's request. Entellus went on to win the fight and the spoil of victory: a bull. Entellus further demonstrated just how destructive the caestus could be, even the smaller, lighter ones, by using his right hand to deliver one blow to the bull's head, killing it by fracturing its skull. Virgil's story was forever immortalized in a mosaic, depicting the victorious Entellus, with his wounded opponent and dying bull (Figure 19). It is interesting to note that the artist of the mosaic clearly shows the metal knuckleduster on the caesti, but with blunted edges. Perhaps Dares was intelligent enough not to want to fight with the style of caestus that had much sharper edges (see Figure 18). Even though injuries were commonplace and often very serious, if not fatal, boxing remained extremely popular with the ancient Romans. Suetonius tells us that Emperor Augustus was very fond of boxing, “particularly those of Latin birth” [EN33]

Figure 20 Terra Cotta African Boxers
Figure 20. Terracotta figures depicting two African boxers using the caestus, 2nd to 1st century B.C.E.
Source: The Trustees of the British Museum, used with permission.

Two terracotta figures, now part of The British Museum, dating from the second or first century B.C.E., depict African boxers using caesti (Figure 20). The boxer on the left is delivering a solid uppercut with his left hand to his opponent's chin, knocking his adversary's head upward and backward. The sheer violence of that blow is unimaginable to a modern-day boxer. Outside of these terracotta figures, however, we have little, if any, hard evidence of boxing in ancient Africa. The evidence that we do have is mainly from oral traditions, where various forms of hand-to-hand combat are referenced [EN34]. The Hausa (the northeast portion of Hausaland, particularly modern Sudan and Chad, is the area that overlaps Kush that is mentioned in the Old Testament) compete, today, in Dambe boxing, which has several characteristics, such as stance, armament, and clothing, which are interestingly similar to ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman boxing scenes. The Dambe boxers traditionally wear loincloths (warki) (but they are now beginning to wear shorts), and cover their balled, dominant hands with a cloth strip (kara). The kara is secured to the hand, often with a knotted cord (zare), and the cloth-and-cord-covered hand is used only for striking and referred to as a “spear”; the non-dominant hand is called the “shield,” and is used to parry incoming blows [EN35]. Some Dambe boxers have been known to add broken glass to their kara, but, today, the practice is highly discouraged and forbidden in competition [EN36]. The technique employed by the Dambe boxers seems eerily similar to the other ancient boxers, especially the act of using thongs on only one hand and incorporating the other hand as a defensive weapon [EN37]. While there was much exchange between Africa and the Mediterranean during antiquity, it is impossible to know if the these ancient peoples influenced one another with respect to boxing. According to a leading anthropologist, Dr. Thomas A. Green, “Wrapping a rope or leather thong around the hand for fighting isn't a very complex invention, and polygenesis is as likely an explanation as cross-cultural borrowing” (personal communication, 14 April 2008). That said, we do know that boxing was not exclusive to the Mediterranean; the inhabitants of the African continent, too, were involved in some form of boxing that utilized hand coverings, even if only quite rudimentary.
Conclusion

Boxing has a long history that can be traced back to the infancy of mankind, in the “Cradle of Civilization” known as Mesopotamia. Ancient artifacts, from stone tablets to intricate vase paintings reference boxing and the types of gloves developed and used. The initial boxing “gloves” were nothing more than long, thin, leather straps, wrapped uniquely around the wrists and hands to provide anatomical support for one boxer while exacerbating the pain felt by the other. These “soft thongs” eventually evolved into “sharp thongs,” simply to increase the brutality of the sport, and purportedly, to enhance the entertainment value. The ultimate sense of violence, however, is attributed to the Romans, who developed a glove called a caestus, which, from a philosophical standpoint, was little more than a modern, switch-blade knife.

Notes
1. Crowther, N. B. (2007). Sport in Ancient Times. Westport, Connecticut and London: Praeger. Crowther writes, “A representation on a clay tablet from a tomb at Sinkara suggests to some researchers that the Sumerians also boxed with bare fists; however, others interpret this scene as dancing.” p. 19
2. Poliakoff, M. B. (1987). Combat Sports in the Ancient World: Competition, Violence, and Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 65.
3. Crowther (above n. 1) states, “The consensus is that these are indeed boxers, because they are located next to a combat scene of stick fighters. Other scholars, however, have suggested that the figures may not be boxers but dancers....” p. 31
4. The Epigraphic Survey in cooperation with The Department of Antiquities of Egypt. (1980). The University of Chicago Oriental Institute Publications. Volume 102. The Tomb of Kheruef: Theban Tomb 192. Chicago: The Oriental Institute of The University of Chicago. The document is available for download in portable document format at http://oi.uchicago.edu/research/pubs/catalog/oip/oip102.html.
5. For further information about bull-leaping see Marie Brennan's article at www.strangehorizons.com/2005/ 20050124/bull-leaping-a.shtml
6. Crowther (above n. 1) states, “These last scenes are so unclear that some identify the figures as wrestlers.” p. 37
7. The Thera Foundation, “Boxing Boys” - Room Beta 1, South Wall, H: 2.75m / W: 0.94m http://www.therafoundation.org/akrotiri/buildingbeta/boxingboysroombeta1southwall/view
8. Not all scholars agree that these “boys” are boxing. Crowther (above n. 1) states, “Although the modern viewer may see this fresco as a spirited boxing scene that is more competitive and closer to boxing of today than boxing on Crete, we should exercise caution and interpret it in the context of the site where archaeologists discovered it. Researchers believe that it represents a ritual activity, noting that artists painted it in a room that probably functioned as a shrine. Whether the boys are engaged in an adolescent game that simulates a sporting contest for adults, with possible connections to boxing on Crete, is more speculative.” p. 39. I respectfully disagree with this interpretation. It is my opinion that the “Boxing Boys” are doing just that: boxing.
9. Kaibel, G. (1878). Epigrammata Graeca. Berlin, no. 942.
10. Sweet, W. E. (1987). Sport and Recreation in Ancient Greece. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 71
11. Crowther, N. B. (1990). The Evidence for Kicking in Greek Boxing. The American Journal of Philology, 111(2), 176-181.
12. Poliakoff, M. B. (1987). Combat Sports in the Ancient World: Competition, Violence, and Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 68
13. Miller, S. G. (2004). Ancient Greek Athletics. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 51
14. Eustathius, 1324.18 (translation to English from Sweet, W. E. (1987). Sport and Recreation in Ancient Greece: A Sourcebook with Translations. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.)
15. Haffner, C. and Lusitant, D. E. (Executive Producers). (1996). Blood and Honor at the First Olympics. [Motion Picture]. United States: Greystone Communications, Inc.
16. Frost, K. T. (1906). Greek Boxing. The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 26, 213-225. Frost writes, “Professional pugilists seem to agree that fights of the present day in which very light gloves are used are more severe than if bare fists were allowed: the gloves have not enough padding to make any appreciable difference, while they prevent the knuckles from swelling and deadening the blows. This must have been the case to an even greater extent when strips of leather were employed.” p. 214
17. Lucillus, Greek Anthology 11.75 (translation to English from Sweet, W. E. (1987). Sport and Recreation in Ancient Greece: A Sourcebook with Translations. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.)
18. Pausanias, 8.40.4-5; A 38 (translation to English from Sweet, W. E. (1987). Sport and Recreation in Ancient Greece: A Sourcebook with Translations. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.)
19. The pnakration was essentially a no-holds-barred fight that was extremely popular to the ancient Greeks
20. Plato, Laws 8.830B (translation to English from Sweet, W. E. (1987). Sport and Recreation in Ancient Greece: A Sourcebook with Translations. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.)
21. Plato, Laws 8.830B (translation to English from Sweet, W. E. (1987). Sport and Recreation in Ancient Greece: A Sourcebook with Translations. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.)
22. Plutarch, Moralia 825e (translation to English from Sweet, W. E. (1987). Sport and Recreation in Ancient Greece: A Sourcebook with Translations. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.)
23. Pausanius, 6.23.4
24. Scanlon, T. F. (1982/3). Greek Boxing Gloves: Terminology and Evolution. Stadion 8-9, 
25. Ibid, p. 40
26. Crowther (above n. 1) states, “The Greeks called both types of coverings [soft and sharp thongs] “ants,” because they had a tendency to bite, or sting.” p. 69; Poliakoff (above n. 12) writes, “A popular name for boxing thongs both light and sharp—myrmex—means “ant.” Ants, then as now, were known for their ability to bite, and myrmex lends itself to boxers' gallows humor.” p. 73; Miller writes, “...their [boxing thongs] nickname was myrmikes (ants) because they stung and left nicks and abrasions on the boxers.” p. 51.
27. Scanlon, (above n. 24) p. 39.
28. Not all scholars agree that the caestus had metal inserts. See Lee, H. M. (1997). The Later Greek Boxing Glove and the “Roman” Caestus: A centennial reevaluation of Juthner's 'Uber Antike Turngerathe'. Nikephoros 10, 161-178. Care must be taken here, as the word caestus is a Latin term that the ancient Romans purportedly used to refer to boxing gloves in general. I use the term deliberately to refer to a Roman boxing glove with metal inserts, as many of the figures and literary references included in this paper, in my opinion, clearly depict or describe, respectively, metal within the caesti.
29. Kohne, E. and C. Ewigleben. (2000). Gladiators and Caesars: The Power of Spectacle in Ancient Rome: Berkeley: University of California Press.
30. Haffner, C., Lusitana, D. E. (Executive Producers). (1996). Blood & Honor at the First Olympics [Motion Pictures]. United States: Greystone Communicaitons, Inc. We must assume that Scanlon was discussing Olympic boxing during Roman rule. Again, however, the evidence for metal inserts in the boxing gloves is limited, and some scholars believe that the caestus actually never had metal inserts (see 28 above).
31. Virgil, Aeneid V.404-484
32. Virgil, Aeneid V.413
33. Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 45
34. Tremearne, A. J. N. (1910). Fifty Hausa Folk-Tales (Continued). Folklore, 21(4), 487-503.
35. Green, T. (2005). Dambe: Traditional Nigerian Boxing. InYo: Journal of Alternative Perspectives http://ejmas.com/jalt/2005jalt/jcsart_Green_0905.html Green states, “This shield and spear aspect is literal rather than figurative...”
36. Ibid.
37. See Figure 11, where only the striking hand of Greek boxers is fitted with a thong; Figure 13 depicts boxers using one hand in an “open-hand” configuration, probably for defensive tactics.


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