In this ancient European form of MMA, maiming and fatalities were not unheard of, likely because many forms of the sport had so few rules, and it arose as a sport in a warrior culture, when people warred with spear and sword. One of the most famous examples of fatality comes from the historian Pausanias, where it is the victor who expires:

For when he was contending for the wild olive with the last remaining competitor, whoever he was, the latter got a grip first, and held Arrhachion, hugging him with his legs, and at the same time he squeezed his neck with his hands. Arrhachion dislocated his opponent's toe, but expired owing to suffocation; but he who suffocated Arrhachion was forced to give in at the same time because of the pain in his toe. The Eleans crowned and proclaimed victor the corpse of Arrhachion.

[Source: Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.40.2]

1 Answer 1


The only confirmed death is Arrhichion of Phigalia who died whilst winning his 3rd championship. It is difficult to ascertain directly the number of deaths as the historical record simply doesn't (as far as I can see) exist.

That said, we can draw parallels to similar events in more recent history and infer from those how likely death would be in pankration. The largest and most recent is obviously modern MMA, which while it has some restrictions which pankration wouldn't have had, is similar in many aspects.

Officially there have been 16 deaths in MMA - 7 in sanctioned bouts, 9 in unsanctioned bouts, and 0 in the UFC which is the largest promoter. In Vale Tudo - one of the progenitors of modern MMA, the official death record is 0. For MMA this results in about 0.6 deaths/year since UFC 1.

The Greek Olympics ran through about 76 iterations (every 4 years from 776-393BC), so a reasonable assumption if we say it's as dangerous as modern MMA is there would be 57 deaths over the nearly 400 years of the Olympics assuming a similar number of fights/year.

It's not unreasonable to assume fewer deaths than this, however, given that the death rate in bare-knuckle boxing and Vale Tudo are much lower per number of fights than modern MMA. It is well recorded that the introduction of gloves increases risk as head strike frequency increases, so this would definitely change the number down.

When we move on from the Greeks, the brutality of the games increased under the Romans, with the introduction of the Cestus - metal studded leather gloves which essentially weaponised the fist, along with other additions which made the games more lethal.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.