Modern day combat sport enthusiasts mistakenly believe that wrestling originated in ancient Greece, due in part to its representation in Greek mythology, as well as it being the first sport added to the Olympic Games in 708 BC. However, the history of wrestling can be traced back to prehistoric times — long before Homer’s wrestling accounts — where cave paintings in France and Mongolia show two naked men grappling before a crowd of watchers. It can also be traced back to ancient tribes across Africa, where each region had its own specific practices for the grappling art.
While wrestling can be found all across the African continent, historical context has greatly focused on ancient Egypt. The country’s incredible Pharaonic tradition and later connection to the Roman Empire made it a topic of interest for Western study. The Victorian era saw the rise of Egyptologists from the English and French gentry, which led to the subsequent proliferation of information on Egypt that also overshadowed the remainder of the continent. As such, much of the information of wrestling’s ancient roots can be traced back to Egypt.
Of all the popular activities in Egypt at the time, wrestling was among the most visually documented sports. The earliest portrayals of wrestling in Egypt began during the 5th Dynasty (2400 BC) following the discovery of a mastaba tomb in Saqqara. The tomb belonged to Old Kingdom ruler Ptahhotep, while the painting depicted six pairs of boys wrestling. The evidence of wrestling grew even more plentiful during the Middle Kingdom (2000-1780 BC), with over 400 wrestling scenes discovered during that period alone.