Minoan Crete is the first culture in the Aegean to provide us with ample iconographic evidence of sporting activity held in the Bronze Age.

Evidence is mainly iconographic, since textual evidence from the earlier periods still remains undeciphered. Minoan sports are portrayed in stone vases, frescoes and sealstones.

The Minoans practiced a number of sports, such as boxing, wrestling, bull-leaping and acrobatics.

The famous relief on the rhyton from Hagia Triada, dated from the 16th century BC, is divided in registers with depictions of different sports such as wrestling, bull-leaping, and boxing. The actual rules of boxing and wrestling are unknown, but the postures are suggestive of the following practices: competitions were probably always held in pairs. Noteworthy is the absence of interference by a judge, a fact probably attributed to iconographic needs.
In both sports the athletes had elaborate coiffures, wore sandals and necklaces. Wrestlers wore a special kind of helmet with cheekpieces, whereas boxers had their heads uncovered. The winner is portrayed with raised left hand, a possible posture to demonstrate his triumph. The defeated is shown in various postures, either on his knees or while trying to avoid the opponent's blows.

In all available scenes, high-quality performance conveys long periods of practice and well-developed athletic ability and training. The famous frescoe from Thera (ca. 1550 BC), depicting two young boys boxing, proves that training was a main concern from an early age. Each of the boys is wearing a girdle and a boxing glove on their right hand only. Bull-leaping scenes imply absolute precision in action and highly developed acquaintance with the dangers encountered by the physical contact with the animal. Acrobatic exercises and wrestling scenes show exercised bodies with narrow waists and well-trained bodies with strong muscles. The consistency and precision of movement shows that athletic activities were organized activities of repetitive nature in Minoan times.

On the basis of these observations, we tend to assign a rather religious character to athletic activities of Minoan Crete.

Egypt & Mesopotamia | Mycenean Greece | Homeric Age

Athletism & Polis | Why Olympia?