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Weightlifting In The Antiquity PDF Print E-mail

In the pre-modern times, “the formal and especially informal recreational activities left the historians very few certain traces.On the other hand, the institutionalized game, the games with rules and competitions were so ordinary and integral part of the cultural life to be ignored by artists and chroniclers”, interested only in exceptional events.Let’s see a few news on weightlifting of that ancient time.


Already in the year 3600 B.C., in China, there was the first program of physical exercises with or without “added loads”. Under the Chu dynasty (1122-1249 B.C.), the examination to enter the army envisaged the study of texts regarding weightlifting. About weightlifting in ancient China, we quote the studies of YangShiyong who described the lifting of the ding (ancient kitchen vessel with handles) and during the Ming dynasty, the lifting of the shidan (a wooden bar with big stones at the ends).


Sumerians were the first people of the fertile Mesopotamia to leave traces of their civilization, flourished around the year 3500 B.C. “Objective of the entire public Mesopotamian art was to demonstrate the skill and the strenght of the ruling class threatening, in this way, any potential enemy. Obviously, we have to suppose that, when they were not engaged in fighting for survival, children and adults from all classes gave themselves up to game and that there were countless informal competitions of strength and dexterity”.


In the Egyptian art, there are lots of representations of wrestlers, several of them concetrated in Beni Hasan’s mastaba.Again in Beni Hasan, in the tomb of Baqhti III (Medium Reign, XI dynasty), there is a mural inscription that, according to some authors, shows three men intent on lifting weights, may be sand bags, with only one arm. Francesco Ravano does not agree with this interpretation. In his opinion, two of them “hold a sort of bag or an inflated bladder around the neck and resting on the ground as they should take a run to lift it on the air and, with it, beat each other; the third  man holds one of these objects up in his hand”. Therefore, the portrayed action would be a “beating” and not weightlifting. Norman Gardiner notices that the young “are swinging heavy bags like indian clubs”.

The warlike people which had established its capital in Mycenae, whose deeds under the walls of Troy were sung by Homer in the Iliad , dominated the Mediterranean area from 1600 to 1200 B.C. the Mycenaeans (also called Achaeans)-write Richard Mandell-“participated in short and long foot-races, wrestling and weightlifting matches. Winning a public match or lifting a big rock in front of an audience, when these activities were socially approved and ritually performed, could be regarded as a favorur indication by the gods”.

The existence of games (at Olympia) in pre-Dorian times perfectly fits the Achaean athletic character narrated by Homer; the fact that the poet does not mention Olympia is due to the simple, local character of the festivals at his times.The strenght of Samson, one of the judges of Israel, laid, according to the legend, in his long air. The Old Testament narrates that, after having broken the cords with which the Philistines had tied him up , he massacred the enemis (actually one thousand) with an ass’jaw. In this way, he was portrayed by Guido Reni in a painting dating back to 1611 and today on display at the National Art Gallery of Bologna. Closed by the Philistines in the city of Gaza, he unhinged the doors and carried them on his back up to the mount Hebron. Also Samson like Hercules and many other heroes killed a lion with his naked hands on his route to Timnah. Betrayed by Delilah, who disclosed the secret of his force, he was captured by the Philistines, blinded and condemned to turn a heavy mill. But, little by little, his hair grew and Samson took his revenge as he was brought to the temple of the god Dagon: leaning on the two main columns, he pulled them down and died with several Philistines under the ruins. The Hebrews excelled in stone-shooting and in archery, they organized a special competition that they callde “ the touchstone game” centred on lifting a big rock. But more than a competition, it was a proof of strength.


From : The Myth of Strenght - Story of weigtlifting from the antiquity to the nineteenth century

            Livio Toschi