From Owen Swift's "Hand-book to Boxing"
ANTIQUITY OF BOXING
PRIOR to acquainting my reader with those precepts and instructions which
it is the main feature of this work to convey, I deem it essential to present
a brief notice of the origin and progressive rise of boxing. I am enabled to
do so by reference to a work of immense research and merit just published.*
a book, by the way, of so much worth, that no sportsman’s library can be
considered complete without it. So perfect are all the observations it contains
upon “modern boxing” that I should say the pen of the great sporting chronicler,
Mr. Dowling, the editor of “Bell’s Life in London,” could alone have supplied
With regard to the antiquity of boxing, it requires no strength of imagination to
come to the conclusion that it is coeval with the existence of man himself; and
that as the fist is the first weapon with which man was provided, either for offence
or defence, it takes precedence of all others. There can be no doubt that our
forefathers, even from the days of Adam, settled their differences, or displayed
their powers, in jest or earnest, with this weapon, and it is equally clear that
with this, as with other weapons of a more deadly character, it was not till civilization
had made extensive advances that it’s use and cultivation as a source of honour
and renown became an object of public encouragement.
THE CLASSIC AUTHORS afford abundant proofs of the high estimation in which the
use of the fist was held; and if we are to take these as our data, we find that Pollux,
the twin brother of Castor, was the first who, in Pagan times, obtained distinction by
the use of his fists, conquering all who were opposed to him, and with Hercules, obtaining
a place among the gods for his sparring qualities. It would seem, however,
that Pollux and his compeers were not content with the use of the simple weapon of
nature, but “following the march of improvement,” increased its power and formidable
character with the additions of the cæstus, an artificial covering to the hand composed
of several thicknesses of raw hide, bound by thongs to the wrist and arm,
which gave fearful and fatal effect to the blows that might be dealt.
Of the cæstus there were various sorts, of which a few are here selected. The
first is a representation of the most tremendous kind of CÆSTUS. The original
in bronze, was found at Herculaneum. It is of a proportion above the natural
size, and appears to have belonged to the statue of some gladiator, armed for
This cæstus was composed of several thicknesses of raw hides, strongly
fastened together in a circular form, and tied to the hand and part of the forearm;
and yet, to prevent its hurting the metacarpus, a glove of thick worsted was used
for the occasion, ending in a sort of fringe, called vellus. (Voyage Pittoresque
de Naples et de Sicile, par l’ Abbe St. Non, vol. ii., p. 49)
The second, however terrific in its operations, was not so destructive and
injurious as the preceding one, and is copied from plate 20 of Lenn’s Costume
des Peuples de l’ Antiquite Leige.
The thrid represents a cæstus of nearly the same kind, and capable of administer-
ing the most death-like punishment. It will be seen in the first volume of Bronzi
de Museo Kirkeriano, where Amycus is discovered fighting with this armour
in his conflict with Pollux.
The fourth, materially different from the three preceding ones, though gene-
rally destructive in its operation, is copied from a bas-relief, found also at Her-
culaneum. It is also engraved as a tail-piece in the second volume of St. Non
Voyage Pittoresque de Naples el de Sicile, p. 51.
And here we have two of the members of the ancient prize-ring” in actual
combat, provided with these terrific aids to Nature.
The use of these ponderous gauntlets many of them being armed with knobs
of brass, blunt points of iron, plummets of lead, &c., led to the adoption of a
species of armour for the head called amphtides, and the object of
which was to protect the temporal bones and arteries. They encompassed the ears
with their thongs and ligatures, and were buckled under the chin, or behind the
head, They were not unlike helmets, and were composed of hides of bulls,
studded with knobs of iron, or strongly quilted, in order to blunt the impetus
of the blows.
To pursue the ancient history of these games, is, however, foreign to the pur-
pose in view; it must suffice to say, therefore, that both among the Greeks and
Romans the practice of pugilism, although differing in its main features from
our modern and less dangerous combats, was considered essential in the education
of their youth, from its manifest utility in “strengthening the body, dissipating
all fear, and infusing a manly courage into the system.” The power of punish-
ment, rather than the Art of Self Defense, however, seems to have been the main
object of the ancients; and he who dealt the heaviest blow, without regard to pro-
tecting his own person, stood foremost in the list of heroes. Not so in modern
times; for while the quantum of punishment, in the end, must decide the ques-
tion of victory or defeat, yet the true British Boxer gains most applause by the
degree of science which he displays in defending his own person, while with
quickness and precision he returns the intended compliments of his antagonist, and,
like a skilful chess-player, takes advantage of every opening which chance pre-
sents; thereby illustrating the value of coolness and self-possession at the moment
when danger is most imminent. This short reference to the boxing propensities
of the ancients, as contrasted with the practice of Englishmen in modern times,
leads at once to the Modern History of Boxing.
There are pics to go along with it.
Peace favor your sword,