Theagenes

The boxer and pankratiast Theagenes - called Theogenes in the sources from before the first century AD - came from the island Thasos and was active as a sportsman during the Persian Wars. It is remarkable that he took part inGreek games, while Thasos stood at the side of the Persians. His father was a priest of Herakles, the hero of the combat sports. Sometimes Theagenes is even called a son of Herakles himself.

Theagenes won an enormous number of victories. He won ten victories at the Isthmian games (nine in the pankration, one combined with a victory in boxing), nine at the Nemean games, all in boxing, three at the Pythian games, also in boxing and two at the Olympic games, one in boxing and one in the pankration, in 480 and 476 BC. Theagenes also won a victory in the dolichos at local games in Argos. It was unusual for fighters to take part in running events, but Theagenes wanted to imitate his great hero Achilles, who was not only the strongest, but also the fastest of all the Greeks. In total he won, according to the sources, 1300 or 1400 victories. This would mean he won a match every week for 25 years. But since there were no games in the winter, this number probably includes all the preliminary rounds as well. He was unbeaten at boxing for 22 years.

Theagenes was so proud of his Olympic victories that he called his son Disolympios, 'double Olympic champion'. Yet his first visit to Olympia was not an undivided success: after his victory in the boxing, he was so exhausted that he withdrew from the pankration. The hellanodikai judged that Theagenes had only participated in the boxing to provoke his opponent Euthymos and imposed a heavy fine.

Many legends existed about the athlete, for example about his appetite. After his death he was heroized. It was believed he could cure diseases. In connection with his heroization the following story is told: after the death of Theagenes, his statue was mistreated at night by one of his enemies - probable a political opponent. The statue fell on the man and killed him. For this 'crime' the statue was thrown into the sea. Some time later Thasos was struck by a famine. The oracle of Delphi advised the Thasians to bring back all the banished. The last one to return was Theagenes, whose statue was caught in the nets of a fisherman. From that moment on Thasos flourished again and to express their gratitude, the Thasians honoured Theagenes with a cult. Among the archaeological remains of his cult is a stone box for sacrificial money.

© KU Leuven, 2012