16 May 2018


​"The following article was originally written in Russian by fellow armwrestling historian Oleg Stepanov. He is interested in finding out where the sport was first practiced, how it evolved, and ultimately how it spread around the world. Part of his work involves examining existing theories on where the sport originated to see I they pass muster. His work is not complete, but this article summarizes some of his findings to date.

I am very grateful that he has allowed me to translate his work and publish it on the Armwrestling Archives.


​Most articles on the early history of armwrestling mention that the sport was practiced at least as far back as ancient Egypt, and that there are hieroglyphs that back up this claim. The first purported evidence is a complex of 39 ancient tombs in a cemetery site called Beni Hasan. Beni Hasan is a grandiose structure located about 20 kilometres south of Mynia, in Middle Egypt. It contains several painted rooms that have been preserved due to Africa’s dry climate. The tomb of Baqet III (21st century BC) is now referred to as the "Fight Hall", as its walls are painted with figures of fighters.

One of the walls of the "Fight Hall" in Beni Hasan

​In her article "Luta de Braço", Ana Miragaya, a Brazilian professor of physical education, writes:

... The opening of the tombs of the Middle Kingdom (2000 BC), located in Egypt at a distance of three kilometers from the city of Mynia, in the ancient city of "Menate Khufu”, a dynasty of the times of Oryx nome, provided at our disposal scenes of ancient Egyptian life, where among other types of combat, given in the form of wall drawings, there are images of people competing in arm wrestling ...

Alas, amidst the frescoes of the walls of Beni Hasan, I could not find a single armwrestler. There are drawings where two men face each other with their elbows bent, but another picture nearby explains that this is just a drawing of a grip in a standing fight. 

Here is another photo from the same hall. In particular, look at the fifth pair on the left in the upper row:
Another view of a wall in the tomb of Baqet III

​Here is another room:  the tomb of Amenemhat (approximately 1938-1913 BC). It contains three walls. Everything is presented in the form of drawings, so that it can be seen more clearly.
Left wall
Front wall
Right wall

​Spanish is very close to the Portuguese and their texts on ancient Egypt are very close to those of Ana Miragaya. The Spaniards even attached a specific list of tombs in which you can find depictions of people engaged in armwrestling: Amenemhat or Ameny n ° 2, Khen Hotep n ° 3, Bakht 3 n ° 15, Khety 3 n ° 17.

As you can see, interpreting these drawings as “armwrestling” is a bit of a stretch.
There may be other evidence. Here is another picture:

​​In interpreting Egyptian hieroglyphs, it is important to consider a particular detail. Artists did not like to depict people from the back. Such drawings can be found, but they are quite rare. Drawings typically depicted hands from only one side. So if one person faced another and they grasped hands in an armwrestling-like position, it would look like a right hand would be clasping a left hand. So one can assume that the hands in this drawing are both right hands (or both left hands). But, the competitors are wrestling standing up, and their elbows aren’t supported. To leap to the conclusion that this was an early form of armwrestling may be a bit much, especially when you consider that they competed standing with crossed legs! Take a look at the full image:"

​​The bas-relief below is taken from the tomb of Mereruka in Saqqara. The tomb consists of a long hall with four square columns, and an eastern wall. "Armwrestlers" can supposedly be found in the bottom row. Unfortunately the barrels are not painted, so everything is gray. To get a better view of the details, here is a close-up of the two lower rows:

​As you can see, this is just a dance. Here, you can see the full image of the wall:

​​On the left are six spectators who are clapping their hands. The second row from the bottom is also a dance. Only, it is a group dance with girls holding their hands over their heads. And on the left, there are also clapping spectators. And all of this action is called the Muu ritual dance.

​​Here is yet another depiction of supposed “armwrestlers” from a different location, but in good condition. See how they cross their legs. Dr. Thierry Benderitter, of the International Association of Egyptologists, has described this as a ritual dance where partners stand on one leg, squeeze their hand into a fist, and press their fists against each other’s.
​It is important to note that in the above text you will not find the statement that armwrestling was not practiced in ancient Egypt. I’ve simply presented you with the information available on the popular theories about the sport’s existence in the land of the pharaohs. I don’t know whether armwrestling existed in ancient Egypt or not – but I do not consider the purported evidence to be valid proof... " Read all article by Eric Roussin on www.thearmwrestlingarchives.com
/ Tomasz Wisniowski