Origins of Wrestling

Wrestling originated in ancient Greece where it was used to train soldiers and as everyday exercise. Since then, it has changed dramatically. It is the oldest recorded competitive sport in world history, and today there are more than 1,000 different styles of wrestling. Unique local forms of wrestling are found in various countries throughout the world.

Early Origins

Wrestling was one of the first competitive sports that the ancient Greeks added to the Olympics in 708 B.C. Prior to 704 B.C., the Greeks competed in wrestling only as part of the pentathalon 1. Wrestling may be much older, however. Cave drawings depicting wrestling date back to 3000 B.C. in the Sumero-Akkadian civilization and to 2400 B.C. in ancient Egypt. But the ancient Greeks began the true competitive sport of wrestling that we know today. During the early years of the ancient Olympics in Greece, wrestling was the very last game that competitors played in the Games, because the sport was considered the ultimate challenge, explains Wrestling New Zealand 1. Along with mathematics and grammar, young boys in Greece were also educated formally in the art and sport of wrestling.


In addition to the Greeks, wrestling was extremely popular among ancient Romans. But the Romans adopted a wrestling style that was less brutal than the Greeks’ style. Amateur wrestling continued throughout the Middle Ages in England, France and Japan. European settlers in America practiced wrestling, as did Native Americans. The first national championships for wrestling in the United States were held in 1888, and continued through the early 1900s. The most popular wrestling style of that time was Greco-Roman wrestling, which allows holds only to the upper body. Other styles varied by nation, with Iceland’s Glima wrestling, Britain’s Cumberland wrestling and Switzerland’s Schwingen wrestling style.


The first modern Olympic Games in 1896 featured wrestling as a sport, and since 1920, wrestling has been part of the Olympics using the freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling styles. Freestyle wrestling increased in popularity throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, both as an entertainment act and as a competitive sport. Unlike Greco-Roman wrestling that limits holds to the upper body, freestyle wrestling allows opponents to use their legs and use holds below the waist as well.

Modern Day

Today, the major amateur wrestling styles are Greco-Roman, freestyle, sombo and judo. In addition to the United States, many other countries love wrestling. Wrestling is the national sport of Turkey, Mongolia and Iran, and these countries, along with Russia and America, produce the top wrestlers of modern times. Weight categories have been established for both men and women wrestlers that compete on various levels, from local or regional to international. Countless modern forms of wrestling are practiced, most of which have their own regional and national associations or federations and championships.