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Triumphant Diagoras held aloft by his sons by Auguste Vinchon.

Mistaken Belief has Turkish Locals Seeking Blessings at Olympic Boxer’s Tomb

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According to reports from the Greek City Times and other news outlets, a 2,300-year-old tomb in Turkey once revered as a holy man’s shrine is no such thing.  Instead, the ‘shrine’ is actually the final resting place of a famous ancient Greek boxer.  Experts have found an inscription that definitively proves that it was actually the tomb of a Greek Olympic hero. Who was the ancient sporting hero whose tomb was for so many years confused with the final resting place of a holy man?

The rock tomb located on a hill outside Turgut village, Marmaris, Turkey. (Image: neoskosmos)

The rock tomb located on a hill outside Turgut village, Marmaris, Turkey. (Image: neoskosmos)

The Revered ‘Saints’ Tomb

The tomb is situated on a beautiful rocky hill of Turgut in the Marmaris district on the Aegean coast of Turkey. The distinctive pyramid-tomb possibly has attracted people to the area for centuries. At some date, unknown, it appears that local people began to believe that the Greek tomb was actually that of a holy man or saint. Many local young men before they joined the Turkish army would take a handful of soil from the site for good luck. The local population continued to treat the burial place as a shrine right up until the 1970s.

In the 1970s a Turkish newspaper reported that the alleged shrine was, in fact, a tomb and not that of a local holy man. This apparently angered many locals and they attacked and ransacked the burial place. It appears that some grave goods that had lain undetected for generations were looted at this time, including at least one statue of  a warrior. The fate of these artifacts is now unknown.

When it was announced the structure was not the tomb of a saint, it was looted. (Image: neoskosmos)

When it was announced the structure was not the tomb of a saint, it was looted. (Image: neoskosmos)

Diagoras of Rhodes

Recently, a team of experts has re-examined the tomb and they claim that they found evidence that it is in fact the tomb of an Olympic boxer by the name of Diagoras, from the 5th century BC. This shows the tomb to be of Greek origin. The chief evidence for the claim, according to the Greek Reporter is an inscription that states that Diagoras will be eternally vigilant “that no coward will come to disturb his rest, ” reports the Greek Reporter .

Modern statue of Diagoras and his sons in Rhodes. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Modern statue of Diagoras and his sons in Rhodes. ( CC BY-SA 4.0)

Diagoras was from the Greek island of Rhodes. It was claimed that he was descended from an ancient Messenian hero, Aristomenes, and the legendary King of Ialysus. His fame in antiquity was great and it rested on his ability in the boxing ring.  Diagores was one of the most celebrated boxers, in the history of the Ancient Olympics. It is claimed that he was crowned Olympic champion twice. He was also a winner at other games, it is believed that he won ‘four times in the Isthmian, twice in the Nemean, and once at in the Pythian Games’ explains the Neokosmos newspaper.

Boxers represented on a Panathenaic amphora. Metropolitan Museum of Art. (CC BY 2.5)

Boxers represented on a Panathenaic amphora. Metropolitan Museum of Art . ( CC BY 2.5 )

It seems that the descendants of the great boxer were all champions in the sport. His sons and grandsons were all pugilists and it is stated in ancient sources that three generations of his family were crowned at champions at Olympic Games and this added greatly to the fame of Diagoras. Legend has it that when his two sons were carrying him around the stadium after their victories at the Olympics, a spectator shouted, Die, Diagoras, you cannot ascend to Olympus besides,” - upon which he died.

The boxer was one of the most famous Rhodians in Antiquity.  The great lyric poet Pindar also celebrated the achievements of the boxer and his family in one of his odes. A statue of Diagoras can be found on the island to this day and a local football team is named after him. The discovery of the tomb of the renowned boxer from antiquity will undoubtedly be welcomed on the Dodecanese Island. However, the mystery remains as to how a Greek boxer’s tomb came to be regarded as a holy man’s resting place.

Top image: Triumphant Diagoras held aloft by his sons by Auguste Vinchon. Source: CC BY-SA 3.0

By Ed Whelan

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