Combat Sport Activities in Ancient Egypt
The most important single combat sport in Ancient Egypt was grappling, that is, the single combat between equal opponents without manmade weapon and according to prescribed rules. In contrast to stick fencing or pugilism it is verified from the earliest history to the Ramesside period (ca. 1292 BC. until about 1070 BC.), without a greater temporal fracture in between. This is substantiated by partially excellently preserved and remarkably detailed documentation.
Whereas grappling is also found in other early civilizations – although nowhere in a similar density – the stick fencing is only verified for Egypt. Also in contrast to grappling only comparatively few depictions are found for stick fencing. In addition, the period were stick fencing depictions occur is also very limited: The earliest references can be found in tombs from the second half of the 18 dynasty (about 1550 BC until 1292 BC), the latest on the picture-ostraca from Deir el-Medineh, the city of the “Necropolis artisans”, which can be dated to the final part of the Ramesside period. Both these disciplines, often depicted together in the pictorial relief decorations of temples and tombs, are enriched by a third, but only very rarely documented combat sport, namely pugilism.
This kind of single combat, in which the striking power of the clenched fists is the decisive factor, gained greater importance only at a much later time, such as in ancient Greece. Pugilism or boxing in ancient Egypt leave us with a quite doubtful image. The number of evidences is extremely low and in addition the quality of the individual materials hardly allow for truly safe and unambiguous conclusions. Due to its combative nature the “ancient Egyptian water jousting” has also to be placed under the topic of combat sports as a fourth discipline. Broadly speaking, these were combative confrontations fought out between the crews of two papyrus rafts. In the course of these fights the punting poles, by which the clumsy watercrafts were usually propelled through the marshes, were transformed into sporting equipment.
From a chronological point of view sources on single combat sport in the ancient Egyptian civilization can be divided into two large groups: