Sacred Victors of the Athletic Guilds

Nude Combat Sport
in the
Ancient World

Rage, Pride, Sex, Violence, and Glory


Bill Weintraub

"They made war training for sport and sport training for war." -- Philostratos, "On Athletic Training," ca 200 AD.

"Agathos Daimon, from Alexandria, a victor at Nemea. He died here boxing in the stadium, having prayed to Zeus for victory or death. Age 35. Farewell." -- Inscription at Olympia, ca 100 AD.

This page offers a brief visual examination of nude combat sport in the ancient world.

The reason the page is not more detailed is that there's an excellent book on the subject of ancient combat sport by Michael Poliakoff, which can be found on the reading list.

Poliakoff's book, which is exhaustive, would be definitive except that, like most jocks of his era (the mid 1980s), he makes no mention of homosex -- he simply pretends that it didn't exist among these nude and heroic young athletes.

As we'll see, that's not remotely how it was.

Greeks and Romans

Two Boxers
A referee instructs two boxers before the bout
The figure on the left is Olympias, the personification of the Olympic Games.
She's listening very attentively.

Bouts were fought without rounds or rest periods -- until one fighter submitted, was knocked out, or was killed.

Although there were age classes, there were no weight classes -- so you can see these are big guys.

And though these classical Greek boxers (ca 340 BC) are just wearing light hand wraps, eventually boxers all wore some variant on the cestus -- a sort of brass knuckles, sometimes made of hardened leather, and sometimes incorporating metal.

For that reason, boxing was more dangerous and more often deadly than the Pankration.

Many athletes participated in wrestling, boxing, and pankration -- but when they did, they always scheduled the bouts so that boxing was last.

That way if the guy was killed or seriously damaged, he at least had the chance to compete in wrestling and pankration first.

So competitors made a very conscious choice -- kleos, glory, was more important than life.

Imperial Roman scene of Pankratiasts and Boxers

The pankratiast on the right is blocking a left punch by pushing it aside -- that's a move I was taught in karate -- and then immobilizing his opponent's right arm by grabbing the wrist -- and kneeing him in the nuts -- all legal moves.

The boxer is standing victorious over his opponent.

He's wearing a really wicked looking cestus -- so you can be sure this has been a very bloody and brutal bout.

This wrestler on a 6th century BC vase is wearing a wreath or crown of leaves and carrying a jar of oil.

That suggests that he was a winner at the Great Panathenaia of Athens, in which valuable olive oil was awarded to the victors.

Most competitions however did not present material rewards, and for that reason were known as "sacred crown games," since the only trophy was a crown of leaves.

But some awarded prizes, like olive oil or tripods, as well as crowns.

By the Roman era, there were over 300 athletic festivals in the Empire, and competitors organized into guilds -- xystarchchies.

At first there were only two distinctions in these guilds, sacred victors and athletes.

So this boy would have been a sacred victor -- a beautiful phrase, which speaks volumes about the Greek attitude towards athletics and competition.

Physically he's the ideal Greek boy, with the ideal (amateur) wrestler's body -- a thick neck, broad chest, strong buttocks and legs.

And of course he's nude and uncut, with just a suggestion of pubic hair.

We can compare this ideal youth to an adult -- in this case Herakles, who's here depicted carrying a tripod sacred to Apollo and wearing the skin of the Nemean lion.

And we can see there's not a lot of difference.

Herakles has a beard so we know he's an adult -- but otherwise, the body type is the same.

And of course he wrestles too.

The Palestra

Working out at the palestra.
On the left, wrestlers and their trainer; to the right, a boxer wraps his hand in soft leather thongs,
while another athlete softens the sand of the workout area -- the skamma -- with a pickaxe.

The palestra was the wrestling school found in every Greek city-state.

At first only a field with a some trees for shade, palestrae were gradually built up, acquiring changing rooms and colonnades.

the referee is on the left
on the right is the handsome youth who will wrestle the victor

There, in the afternoons, men and youths of the citizen class would meet to exercise, wrestle, socialize, and look for romantic partners - nude.

This nudity was not a small matter to the Greeks. They considered it the mark of a civilized man, and would have been ashamed to wear clothes in an athletic setting.

At the heart of Greek athletics was the one-on-one contest, the individual's strenuous physical struggle to gain victory over his opponent. That's why, at the four great pan-Hellenic games and even smaller local contests, boxing was included and team sports or events aimed only at setting a record were excluded. It's also why the Greek pentathlon - long jump, sprint, discus, and javelin - culminated in wrestling. As is plain from their word for contests, agones, to the Greeks athletics above all meant the struggle, competition, and pain experienced by one man attempting to defeat another.

athenian ephebes train at the palestra
the view is from the apodyterium or undressing room

Intensive military training also took place at the palestra, though over time other facilities (which we would call parade grounds) were developed for drill. Still, it was common for Athenian ephebes (the word ephebe is ambiguous - it can mean athlete or teen-ager, but in Athens it denoted youths 18 to 20 years old who underwent compulsory military service) to train, nude, at the palestra.

And of course all of a Spartan male's life from the age of 7 to 30 was occupied by the agoge, an intensely communal and erotic form of warrior training, in which nudity was almost constant. (We'll explore the agoge more fully in The Children of Sparta.)

To the right: An athlete uses a pickaxe for breaking up and softening the surface of the skamma.

Caring for the workout area was a communal task, and keeping the surface of the skamma -- often a mixture of sand and olive oil -- soft was critical if the athletes were to avoid injury.

Above: A youth works the speed bag.

Etruscan showing Greek influence.

The Herm

Herms were found throughout Greek life -- at crossroads, in temples and other sacred places, in private homes, and in every palestra.

The Herm was a block of stone with a head of Hermes at the top and an erect phallus carved into the base.

The presence of a herm in every palestra made explicit the connection between combat sport and male sexuality.

A boxer stands victorious in the palestra.

On the left is a herm -- unfortunately, the phallus has been broken off.

The boxer holds a palm branch and a ribbon, both signifying victory, and wears a boxing glove on his left arm.

1st century AD Roman terracotta.

Sacred Victors
Sacred Sex

This vase tells a story.

In the top panel we see a wrestling match.

And in the main panel the sacred victor is being courted by three men -- one is touching his genitals while another carries a calf as a courtship present.

They are courting him for the privilege of being his lover, which sexually means performing intercrural (between the thighs) frot and rubbing cocks.

Notice that the vase painter has provided names for all the characters.

I can't decipher them, but they would be mythological, identifying the scene and the action with gods and heroes.


What sort of sex did these athletes have with each other, and who was having sex with whom?

A lot of nonsense has been put forth to answer those questions, and for no good reason, since the literary and material evidence is clear.


Let's look at courtship first.

In this first image, an adult man, denoted by his beard, is courting a beardless teenager or young man, usually referred to as a "youth" -- that is, a teenager well into pubescence.

Notice that they are standing face to face, making eye contact, that the man is reaching towards the youth's genitals, and that their genitals are facing each other as well.

Their courtship is about, in part, front-to-front sex.

The "youth," who, significantly, is holding a victor's crown, isn't a child -- rather, judging by his height and robust physique, he's probably in late adolescence.

Was courtship and sex always a matter of a man and a youth?

No, as we can read in Plato, Aristotle, Aristophanes, Thucydides, and Xenophon -- just to name a few -- and as we can see on this vase:

three courtship scenes

On the left, a youth courts a slightly younger youth, who opens his robe to display his genitals. The youth being courted is not passive.

In the center, a somewhat older youth, still beardless, offers a courtship gift -- a hare -- to a smaller (meaning younger) youth, who reaches out his hand in the direction of the older youth's genitals.

Only on the right do we see a man courting a youth -- who smiles at the attention.


the godling Zephyros frots with the Spartan prince Hyacinthos

Another misconception about the Greeks is that sex was somehow a very mechanical matter of intercrural (between the thighs) frottage, which the younger person didn't "enjoy."

Yet Hyacinthos is smiling and appears to be erect.

While this kiss between two youths further belies that idea.

As does the animated Frot action on these vases:

Notice that in many of the scenes, the youth's dick appears to be erect as well, and that in the intercrural position, the older person's hard cock would be just beneath the teenager's ball sac, stimulating it as it rubbed back and forth.

Notice also that all the youths and some of the bearded men in this scene carry victors' crowns.

Does it seem reasonable that a young man, athletic, having just worked out and/or competed and won, having been courted by and accepted another male, usually another youth, as his lover, and with his body flooded with testosterone, would have not become erect when stimulated in this way?


When he did become erect, his cock would have either rested on his partner's abdomen, or between his thighs.

Either way, the lovers experienced mutual frottage, and clearly, phallus-on-phallus Frot as well.

The Greeks were human beings.

Passionate competitors.

Passionate lovers.

Passionate lovers of men.

Anything else you are told about them is a lie.

This is a statuary group of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, Frot Men who loved each other so passionately that they killed and died, heroically, to preserve that love.

Everything these men did, including their nude, violent, bloody combat sports and their nude, violent, bloody warfare, was shaped by their love for other men and their way of making love to those men.

Just as their combat sports and their way of war shaped and determined the way they made love.

Make no mistake: the figures that you see in these vase paintings, wrestling, boxing, and rubbing cocks,

were ALL warriors.

Every one of them, when the time came, took shield and spear in hand and fought for his native land.

Which is why we say:

Warrior Homosex is Heroic Homosex

Heroic Homosex is Warrior Homosex

Phallic Masculine Heroic

Prior to the 20th century, in most places on earth the warrior ethos dominated male life.

And male-male eroticism.

Analist culture, which in every particular is the opposite of warrior homosex, is a product of historical forces which took root during the 19th century and culminated in late 20th century post-industrial society.

Inevitably, analism will fade and pass away.

It's the intent of The Man2Man Alliance that Heroic Homosex and the Warrior Ethos comprise the future of men who love men, an aim which can only be achieved with the help of every man who reads this page.

Whether analism or Heroic Homosex represents the future of men who love men will be determined by the forces of history -- and by the men who read this page.

Spartan Hoplites
Nude, Brutal, Homosexed Warriors

These men, like all Greeks, made war on other men and made love to them too.

As we look at more images of combat athletes, remember that truth.

A stunning 1st century BC statue of a victorious boxer.

Once again there's a herm, this time a herm of Herakles with the genitals obscured by a robe.

The boxer is wearing the Greek form of cestus, with a hardened strip of leather over the knuckles -- dangerous but not as deadly as the Roman metal.

The victor gazes serenely down on his defeated opponent.

To the left:A youth works the speed bag.

Etruscan showing Greek influence.

Below: wrestlers on a 4th century BC coin.


Each man has a bloody handprint on his body.



Two Letters from Naked Wrestler

Naked Wrestler is a former collegiate wrestler who as an adult continues to train and wrestle competitively, including most recently at the Gay Games in Sydney, Australia.

He has two pages in Warriors Speak: Cock-fuckin' Man to Man and The Ultimate in Man2Man.


I went to an amateur submission fight event north of town on Sat night. Looks like really cool stuff but it takes a lot of training and conditioning. Awesome take downs, kicks and face hits.

I'm planning on taking boxing this spring now that I'm in the best shape I've been in in more than 10 years. I have the urge to experience real fighting. I know I'll regret it if I don't pursue it. Watching two guys take a fight to the ground and get bloody from all the face hits gets my dick hard and makes me want to get in on it too. It's a feeling of totally letting go. I think it's cool.

While I was watching the submission fights I imagined what it must have been like for Greeks and Romans to experience and watch submission fights totally naked. I think they must have started their fights with full hard erections as they faced off. Part attraction, part male intimidation. Some of the Adult wrestling camps have submission fighting, sometimes indoors. I'd like to explore doing submission wrestling and fighting nude to find out what it's really like.

What also turns me on is that we were sitting in the 3rd row and from there you really get to see the sweat and blood on the dudes. Plus when you're that close you get drops of blood and sweat landing on you when some dude gets smacked hard just right.

Anyway here's another cool pic. I can just imagine these 2 dudes naked in this fight. I love the idea of both of their genitals coming together as one fighter moves in for the kill. The shot from the rear would look awesome. I'll see if I have another pic that shows that.

Hey Naked Guy,

That's a very good point about the way fighters' genitals would touch if they were naked and how it must have been common in Greek and Roman combat sports.

Obviously the only way a society can tolerate that sort of nudity and contact is if it does not have a prohibition against men havin sex with men.

Which the Greeks didn't.

They had rules -- but no prohibition.

So that really matters.

I think as our culture becomes more accepting of male bisexuality, genital touching in combat sports will become less of an issue.

And I also think that figthers themselves will lead the way on this -- because many of the fighters I've talked to are more willing to admit to erotic feelings for other men -- particularly in the ring or during bouts -- than ordinary straight guys.

So I think fighters -- esp because they have that macho rep -- are freer to admit to those feelings -- and that they'll lead the way.

I do everything I can to attract martial artists and other guys into combat sports to the site -- and when I have money for advertising, I'll do a LOT more.

Because they're a natural constituency.

follow up letter from Naked Wrestler


Good to hear back from you. I'm planning on being at a tournament this fall. This time I want to kick some butt. I've learned a lot of wrestling in the last year.

As far as genital touching I think you're right about it one day becoming a common thing among fighters who will one day take the plunge into totally nude fighting. Who would have thought 20 years ago that we would have Pankration Fighting on a regular basis as a grass roots event all over the country? And now we do. So I think that it will start out as something that the guys do in the fight schools when it's just a couple of guys-maybe 3 guys-staying around after fight practice and practicing their fighting skills alone on the mat. It would probably start out as guys daring each other to fight totally man to man in a rather half serious way. Once they see that they both or all three have erections then the ice is broken and fear of shame is gone and every thing's cool among the men. It would probably continue as an underground event for a long time, but it would be a start.

I know that in Toronto there is a club that meets on Saturdays for "wrestling and light submission fighting" and the email I get from them states that clothing is optional. So there's going to be guys willing to take the first step.

I want to start going to a ground fighting school one day a week and I'll be able to tell if guys might be in to that sort of thing as I'm pretty perceptive about dudes now.

I think the key is for dudes to know that it's not a sign of weakness or unmanliness to get hard around other dudes, especially in a fight setting. I know that when I tried submission wrestling once when I lived in Oregon, I couldn't help but get an erection at the start of the match and also when I finished the match cock to cock with this guy as I was choking him out. It's quite the rush. Choking this guy out and making him tap out could make me shoot my load all over his abs. Taking it to the next level of hits to the body and face to get the submission must be ecstasy. At the Pankration event I went to I was in the 3rd row from the ring and in a couple of fights when the blood started to plater from the bottom man's face and the sweat would flick off both their bodies out on to the first few rows of people it really got my dick hard. I have to try it. I have to know what it's like.

Here's another cool pic.

Talk to you later.

Thanks Guy

One thing we need to remember is that men have a great need to be with men in all-male environments -- from the neolithic longhouse to the Victorian men's club, men have sought all-male environments.

Do men also need to be nude among other nude men?


Society can deny that need -- but at a price.

Men need the open, nude, relaxed, combative, and potentially sexual company of other men.

Without it, they suffer.

Within it, they thrive.

Roman boxer

Roman cestus

Violence and Glory

Theory and Practice
Nude Combat Sport
in the
Ancient World


Bill Weintraub

After word

Monomachia -- single armed combat and the institutionalization of the death match.

Although the Olympics were supposed to be a time of truce, in the fourth century BC a war broke out not just during the Olympics but at the Olympics over control of the games.

And spectators who had been watching nude combat sports now watched as armed men tried to kill each other.

It was, as it turned out, a sign of things to come.

For in 168 BC Rome conquered the Greek world.

And though the Romans admired much about Greek culture, they didn't share the Greeks' enthusiasm for athletics.

To them, fighting which was not a direct preparation for war was a waste of time.

Nevertheless, under the peace imposed by Rome, the number of athletic events fought nude in the Greek style increased, and spread throughout the Empire.

But something else spread also, and that was the gladitorial games.

Gladiators and their "games" should not be confused with athletes.

Gladiators were, almost always, slaves, prisoners of war, or condemned criminals, who were being given one last chance to fight and die "honorably" in the arena.

Death was the intended outcome.

Combat sport athletes, on the other hand, were free men who chose to compete.

Sometimes athletes were killed in boxing or pankration, but that was not the intent nor the necessary outcome of the sport.

What both forms of combat share, however, is a sexual element.

The difference is that as free men voluntarily fighting each other, athletes could be sexually expressive before, during, or after a bout.

Whereas the sexual element to the gladiatorial contests was for the spectators.

And the Romans, in their relatively puritanical way, played up that aspect of the bouts.

For although the gladiators didn't fight nude, they were usually bare chested, and as we can see from these statues, their loin cloths were often minimal.

And many ancient writers commented on the sexual thrill felt and openly expressed by members of the audience -- both male and female.

Some gladiators went so far as to adopt "professional names" which suggested homosexuality: Hyacinth, or example, or Narcissus.

And under those names they fought and died.

These illustrations are by famed Osprey artist Angus McBride, one of the finest military artists in the world today.

Osprey books are, on the whole, non-homophobic and highly recommended. (To learn more, please consult the Reading List under "Spartans").

In the illustration above, a "provocator" or challenger is executing a "hoplomachus" -- a gladiator who fought in the garb of a Greek hoplite.

The Romans enjoyed seeing an enemy -- even one they'd conquered decisively centuries before -- die in the arena.

And here below we see two men in the minimal and revealing costumes of a Thracian and Secutor.

Both these men would soon be dead too -- for few gladiators lived till retirement.

Christianity, rightly, put an end to the Gladiatorial Games.

But it also put an end to nudity in athletics, and tended to distrust sexual energy which was not sublimated to the needs of the church.

Society, we hope, will never return to gladiatorial brutality.

But, in our entertainment driven culture, we may well see a return of public nudity in combat sports.

As Naked Wrestler has said, it's already happening in private.

And Pro Wrestling is increasingly emphasizing sex and story line over any pretence of competition.

Will it be a revival in the true spirit of the Greek games -- an agon, one man's physical strenuous effort to overcome another?

No one can say.

In any case, private nude combat sport is, in my view, no doubt a good thing.

What it will mean, should it become public again, for those who will succeed us, is something at which we can only guess.



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