The history of wrestling
Fighting and sport are as old as human culture. In fact, the two often go hand-in-hand as most of the world’s sports evolved from training for skills a society deems necessary, which traditionally and unfortunately still in many places, is combat. And as long as there has been sport there has been wrestling. As many known, a great many sports (as opposed to games) developed as a manner for people to fine tune the skills necessary for war. Martial arts and undisguised attempts at perfecting one’s fighting abilities, despite all the philosophy and cultural context in which we may find them. Archery, fencing and even the equestrian sports are all direct descendants of military games designed to tweak and perfect and practise war skills.
Wrestling, however, requires only a body, whereas other martial sports might require a sword or a horse or a gun or some other tool of war. The fact that absolutely no equipment is necessary means that it’s one of the most ancient and universal of sports.
Speaking from a Western-perspective, it isn’t really until the mediaeval and early modern times that wrestling began being seen as a formalised sport despite it having with us as human for centuries and centuries. The German-speaking world is where we, in Europe, begin to find distinct forms of fighting that led, among other martial arts, to wrestling. These early forms of wrestling are often called folk wrestling and are better described as grappling. In Europe it wasn’t until baroque times that this combat-training social hobby became more codified and therefore respectable enough for nobles and people with societal rank to participate, which eventually led us to the times of sports beloved by so many fans today.
However, wrestling was not by any stretch of the imagination confined to Europe, however. In regions that are included in modern-day Iraq and Iran wrestling is as old as civilisation itself. In the epic tales of the demigods of Gilgamesh and Shahnameh, there are already references to wrestling—this at a time when the foundation of Rome was still two millennia away.
One of the most common and popular forms of wrestling is that of Greco-Roman wrestling. Despite its ancient-sounding name it was invented in the mid-1800s throughout Europe, at the same time that in the UK a form of wrestling known today as freestyle was being developed. This Greco-Roman style became very popular and the so-called golden age of wrestling was about 10 years on both sides of 1900. At that time, wrestling competed with boxing and horse-racing to be the most popular sport.
The first World War saw a decline in the popularity of the sport as many athletes fought and like many millions died in the all-consuming conflict. Although wrestling never quite regained its pre-war popularity it remained a favourite the world over and still to this day has a large and dedicated following.