History Lesson: Milo of Croton

I’ve written about various sports over the past two years I’ve been writing. I’ve covered all the way back into the 1970s and even before. I think the oldest athlete I’ve ever written about was NBA legend, Bill Russell, which was a 5th grade book report. Well, I’m about to shatter that record as we go through our next history lesson: Milo of Croton.


Milo of Croton was an Olympic wrestler in the years 536 to 520 B.C. He was a six time Olympic champion. I’m addition to being an Olympian, Milo also won the Pythian Games, Isthmian Games and the Nemean Games more than once.

The Pythian Games were held two years after the Olympic Games in honor of Apollo which was founded in 6th century BC. The Isthmian and Nemean Games were held in the off years between the Pythian and Olympic Games.

Milo of Croton was legendary as a wrestler and in the strength and training world. As a child, Milo wanted to become stronger. Milo had a baby calf and he would lift it onto his shoulders every day and walk around. The thought behind it was as the bull grew bigger and heavier, he would get used to the weight, becoming stronger over time. He did this for four years and at the end, he carried the full grown bull to slaughter and allegedly ate the entire bull in one day. This is the foundation of progressive resistance training that is done today.

Milo the Mathematician

We all know the Pythagorean theorem: a²+b²=c². The formula calculates the hypotenuse of a right triangle and was developed by a Greek mathematician, Pythagoras. As legend has it, Pythagoras and Milo were very close. While at a party, the roof caved in because of the pillars collapsing. Milo of Croton held the roofs up and allowed everyone to escape and then saved himself.

Milo of Croton also was in the military. In 510 BC, Croton and the Sybaris went to battle over a political dispute. It was Pythagoras who urged Croton to take up arms against Sybaris and their tyrant, Telys, went to war with Croton. It was Milo who led the attack.

“One hundred thousand men of Croton were stationed with three hundred thousand Sybarite troops ranged against them. Milo the athlete led them and through his tremendous physical strength first turned the troops lined up against him.”

Diodorus Siculus (XII, 9)

Telys had Sybarite citizens defected to Croton after the tyrant seized the property of the 500 richest citizens and banished them. When Telys saw they were at a disadvantage to Croton, he demanded his citizens to return, which they didn’t. Instead, they drew up arms against Telys and Sybaris and won the battle.

What’s even crazier is that Milo of Croton led this battle in his Olympic crowns, armed with a club, and wearing lion’s skin in the vein of Heracles. Milo got that lion’s skin by hunting it down and choking it out with his bare hands. Needless to say, Croton won, led by Milo.

Milo the Olympian

Before his wild military accomplishments, Milo of Croton made his name in the Olympiad, as mentioned earlier. 30 years earlier, he won four games, winning a grand slam of sorts known as the Periodonikēs.

Croton’s Olympic strength was legendary as well. It is said that Milo could hold a pomegranate in his hand and he could keep someone from crushing the fruit from the sheer hand strength alone.

Milo’s strength was so suffocating that he would defeat his opponents with ease. At seven feet tall and with no weight classes like we know it today, Milo dominated his opponents. If his insane size wasn’t enough, Milo would eat the meat of a bull raw to intimidate his opponents and drink it’s blood for energy. The guy was a nutcase.

In his final wrestling match, he was finally outsmarted by a young Croton. The wrestler had a gameplan called “akrocheirismos” or “highlandedness.” Essentially, he kept out of the reach of Milo and let fatigue take his toll before he began his attack.

The Death of Milo of Croton

Milo of Croton getting killed by a lion as his hand was stuck in a tree.

Milo was met with an untimely death. Never to back down from a moment to push himself, he saw a tree with a cut in it. He wished to rip the tree in half with his bare hands. He put his hand in the tree and his hands became stuck. While stuck there, he was surrounded by either wolves or a lion, depending on which story you read. Weather it be the lion or pack of wolves, Milo was able to fend them off for some time before eventually being killed by the wild animal.

Milo of Croton is an Olympic legend and the founder of many things we know of strength training and wrestling today.

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Blaine Henry

Just your friendly neighborhood fight fan!

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