Minoan Crete is the first culture in the Aegean to provide us with
ample iconographic evidence of sporting activity held in the Bronze
Age. From the representations on stone vases, frescos and sealstones
it appears that the Minoans practiced a number of sports, such as
boxing, wrestling, bull-leaping and acrobatics.
The famous relief on the rhyton from Hagia Triada, dating to the 16th century BC, is divided into zones where different sports such us wrestling, bull-leaping and boxing are depicted. Eventhough the actual rules of boxing remain unknown, the postures are suggestive of the following practices: competitions were probably always held in pairs. Noteworthy is the absence of interference by a judge; a fact probably attributed to iconographic restrictions. In both sports the athletes had elaborate coiffures, wore sandals and necklaces. Wrestlers wore a special kind of helmet with cheekpieces, whereas boxers had their heads uncovered. The winner is portrayed with his left hand raised, a possible posture to demonstrate his triumph. The defeated is shown in various postures, either on his knees or while trying to avoid the opponent's blows.
In all available scenes, high quality performance conveys long periods of practice and well-developed athletic ability and training. The famous fresco from Thera (ca. 1550 BC), depicting two young boys boxing, proves that training was a main concern from an early age. Each of the boys is wearing a girdle and a boxing glove only on his right hand. Bull-leaping scenes imply absolute precision in action and highly developed acquaintance with the dangers encountered during physical contact with the animal. Acrobatic exercises and wrestling scenes show exercised bodies with narrow waists and well-trained bodies with strong muscles. The consistency and precision in movement shows that athletic activities were organized activities of repetitive nature in Minoan times.
Based on these observations we tend to assign a rather religious character to the athletic activities of Minoan Crete. It appears that they formed part of a ceremonial initiation rite (rite of passage) of noble youths. Alternatively they formed a type of religious spectacle, organized by the palace. Such spectacles would entertain large crowds of people in the vicinity of the palace.