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‘Shrine’ in Turkey Turns Out to Be Tomb of Ancient Greek Boxer Diagoras

Shrine in Turkey Turns Out to be Tomb of Ancient Greek Boxer Diagoras
Tomb of Ancient Greek Boxer Diagoras in Turkey. Credit: Akreofili/ CC0

A 2,300-year-old tomb in southwest Turkey—once revered as a holy Islamic site—turns out to have been the tomb of ancient Greek boxer Diagoras.

Local people in the Marmaris district of Turgut thought the unusual hilltop pyramid tomb was the burial place of a holy figure in Islam, and they treated it as such for centuries, conducting sacred rites at the site.

According to tradition, young men going into the army to do their military service would take a handful of earth from the area around tomb as a good-luck talisman, due to its holy status.

The tomb, called Çağbaba in Turkish, even served as a pilgrimage site for the local faithful. Believers traveled to the site from across the country to pray for health and good fortune.

Many residents continued to treat it like a holy place until the 1970s when, Turkish newspaper Milliyet reported, looters ransacked the tomb and its status as a religious site was questioned.

Ancient Greek Temple of Hecate near Turgut, Turkey
Ancient Greek Temple of Hecate located at Lagina, near Turgut, Turkey.

“Shrine” in Turkey actually tomb to ancient Greek boxer Diagoras

Despite these doubts about its Islamic roots, locals continued to treat the ancient tomb, that dates back nearly 2,400 years, as a holy site.

This was until archaeologists uncovered strong evidence that pyramid-structure actually served as the burial site to famed ancient Greek boxer Diagoras of Rhodes, justifying long-held doubts about the tomb’s history.

Archaeologists discovered a Greek inscription on the tomb’s walls, identifying Diagoras and featuring a quote from the athlete from beyond the grave, stating: “I will be vigilant at the very top so as to ensure that no coward can come and destroy this tomb.”

According to reports, there was also mention of Diagoras’ wife, Aristomache, at the tomb. Archaeologists posit that there was once a sculpture of the couple at the site, that has since been stolen by looters.

ancient Greek boxer Diagoras Statue in Rhodes
Ancient Greek boxer Diagoras Statue, in Rhodes. Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Natafly2 BB BY SA 4.0

Diagoras was greeted with applause wherever he went

Diagoras was one of the most popular figures in antiquity during the fifth-century BC, and his successes in boxing were so well known that the athlete was greeted with applause nearly everywhere he went, according to ancient sources.

A descendant of ancient royals from Rhodes and Messenia, the boxer was the top athlete of his day, having won twice at the Olympic games, twice at the Nemean games, four times at the Isthmian games, and at least once at the Pythean games.

All three of Diagoras’ sons–Damagetos, Akousilaos, and Dorieus–were Olympic champions, reaching or surpassing their father’s fame and talent.

This was considered the highest honor for a father in antiquity.

The immense strength of both Diagoras and his ancestors was heralded by ancient authors, particularly Pindar and Pausanias.

According to historians from antiquity, Damagetos and Akousilaos, Diagoras’ oldest children, carried their father on their shoulders after the two won at the Olympic games, an image that has become a symbol of a parent’s joy at seeing their children reach new heights.

A modern statue depicting the scene of Diagoras on the shoulders of his sons stands in the City of Rhodes, and the island’s airport is named after the ancient athlete.

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