Arrhichion, The Olympic Champion Who Won After His Death

Aug 25, 2020 0 comments

Pankration was a violet sport. Practiced in ancient Greece, this brutal combination of boxing and wrestling had virtually no rules. The object was to defeat the opponent by any means necessary, and this included hitting, kicking, twisting of limbs, and even strangling. The only thing competitors were not allowed to do was bite or gouge the eye. The contest ended when one of the fighters acknowledged defeat or was rendered unconscious. Many fighters lost their lives playing Pankration.


Two men engage in the pankration style of wrestling. A plaster cast of a marble sculpture dated to around 300 BC.

Arrhichion was one of the most famous of all pankratiasts. He was a three-time champion in the Olympic games, having won the event in 572 BC, 568 BC and 564 BC. His final victory was also his last game, because he died in the ring. But how is it possible to be a winner and be dead at the same time, when the rules of the game state that whoever was subdued in a Pankration match was automatically defeated?

According to the story that has been told and retold for millennia, Arrhichion’s unnamed opponent had him in a literal death-grip by the neck, and was steadily applying pressure in an attempt to get Arrhichion to submit. However, Arrhichion would not concede, and continued to fight back as his opponent suffocated him. At that moment, Arrhichion’s trainer shouted to him: “What a noble epitaph you’ll receive if you do not submit—'He was never defeated at Olympia.’”

These words gave Arrhichion strength, and just as he was about to pass out, Arrhichion inflicted a blow on his opponent’s foot, breaking his ankle. The pain from his ankle was so severe that Arrhichion’s opponent was forced to release his hold. Nevertheless, Arrhichion slumped to the ground dead.

Philostratus gives a detailed account of Arrhichion’s last match.

Accordingly the antagonist of Arrichion, having already clinched him around the middle, thought to kill him; already he had wound his forearm about the other’s throat to shut off the breathing, while, pressing his legs on the groins and winding his feet one inside each knee of his adversary, he forestalled Arrichion’s resistance by choking him till the sleep of death thus induced began to creep over his senses. But in relaxing the tension of his legs he failed to forestall the scheme of Arrichion; for the latter kicked back with the sole of his right foot (as the result of which his right side was imperiled since now his knee was hanging unsupported), then with his groin he holds his adversary tight till he can no longer resist, and, throwing his weight down toward the left while he locks the latter’s foot tightly inside his own knee, by this violent outward thrust he wrenches the ankle from its socket.

The judges ruled that as his opponent had submitted, Arrhichion was the true victor, and crowned him such, making him the only Olympic athlete to win a title post-mortem.


“The Pancrastinae” by Sir John Everett Millais, 1842

Although the story itself is true—at least we believe so—there has been a few debates on the manner of his death. Some believe that Arrhichion died from a broken neck and not asphyxiation, because before a man dies from loss of oxygen, he passes out, after which the choke hold has to be maintained for a sustained period to deny his brain of oxygen. Scholars point out that the referrer overseeing the match would have noticed Arrhichion’s limp body and stopped the match before the choke became lethal. Alternatively, if Arrhichion’s opponent released the hold after Arrhichion had broken his ankle, then Arrhichion’s blood supply to the brain would have been restored and Arrhichion would have merely become unconscious. Arrhichion’s death, some argue, must have been instantaneous, which is only possible if his neck broke. Another theory suggest that Arrichion died due to sudden cardiac arrest.

After his death, a victor statue of Arrhichion was set up in the marketplace at Phigalia. It is one of the oldest dated Olympic victor statues. The statue is now at the Museum of the Olympic Games in Olympia.

# Wikipedia,
# Jason Schielke, MMA History: How Pankration Champ Arrichion Won Olympic Crown After His Death,


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