Arrhichion – Olympic victor even in death

He was a champion pankratiast (martial art blending boxing and wrestling) in the ancient Olympic Games. He was the winner of the pankration at the 52nd and 53rd Olympiads. Little did he know that the 54th would be his last. His fatal fight was described by the geographer Pausanias and by Philostratus the Younger.

Pausanias states:

“For when he was contending for the wild olive with the last remaining competitor, whoever he was, the latter got a grip first, and held Arrhachion, hugging him with his legs, and at the same time he squeezed his neck with his hands. Arrhachion dislocated his opponent’s toe, but expired owing to suffocation; but he who suffocated Arrhachion was forced to give in at the same time because of the pain in his toe. The Eleans crowned and proclaimed victor the corpse of Arrhachion.”

The account by Philostratus’ is longer:

“Accordingly the antagonist of Arrichion, having already clinched him around the middle, thought to kill him; already he had wound his forearm about the other’s throat to shut off the breathing, while, pressing his legs on the groins and winding his feet one inside each knee of his adversary, he forestalled Arrichion’s resistance by choking him till the sleep of death thus induced began to creep over his senses. But in relaxing the tension of his legs he failed to forestall the scheme of Arrichion; for the latter kicked back with the sole of his right foot (as the result of which his right side was imperiled since now his knee was hanging unsupported), then with his groin he holds his adversary tight till he can no longer resist, and, throwing his weight down toward the left while he locks the latter’s foot tightly inside his own knee, by this violent outward thrust he wrenches the ankle from its socket.”


Philostratus also wrote that Arrichion’s failure to submit to his opponent was the result of his trainer, Eryxias, shouting to him, “What a noble epitaph, ‘He was never defeated at Olympia.'”

A victor statue of Arrhichion was set up at Phigalia; what is believed to be the same statue is now displayed in the museum at Olympia. It is one of the oldest dated Olympic victor statues.

Adela