Wrestling represents one of the oldest forms of combat. The origins of wrestling go back 15,000 years through cave drawings. Babylonian and Egyptian reliefs show wrestlers using most of the holds known in the present-day sport. In ancient Greece wrestling competition, brutal in many aspects, served as the focal sport of the ancient Olympic Games. After the Roman conquest of the Greeks, wrestling was absorbed by the Roman culture but eliminated much of its brutality. In 393, Emperor Theodosius I prohibited all pagan games including wrestling. During the Middle Ages wrestling remained popular and enjoyed the patronage of many royal families, including those of France, Japan, England and German.
Wrestling as a modern sport developed in the 19th century out of traditions of folk wrestling, emerging in the form of two styles of regulated competitive sport, "freestyle" and "Greco-Roman" wrestling. According to UWW, a Napoleonic soldier named Jean Exbrayat first developed the Greco-Roman style. In 1848, Exbrayat established some rules for this kind of wrestling. The Italian wrestler Basilio Bartoletti first coined the term "Greco-Roman" for the sport to underline the interest in ancient values. Early British settlers in America brought a strong wrestling tradition with them. Modern freestyle wrestling, according to UWW, is said to have originated in Great Britain and the United States by the name of "catch-as-catch-can" wrestling.
Wrestling gained great popularity in fairs and festivals during the 19th century. Freestyle wrestling gained great popularity in the United States after the Civil War. By the 1880s, tournaments drew hundreds of wrestlers. The first organized national wrestling tournament took place in New York City in 1888. The British and Americans never really enjoyed Greco-Roman wrestling, but in Europe, the style was highly promoted. Almost all the continental European capital cities hosted international Greco-Roman tournaments in the 19th century. Greco-Roman wrestling soon became prestigious in continental Europe and was the first style registered at the modern Olympic Games, beginning in Athens in 1896. Freestyle first emerged as an Olympic sport at the St. Louis Olympic Games in 1904.
The international governing body for the sport, United World Wrestling (UWW), was established in 1912 in Antwerp, Belgium as the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA). Since 1921, UWW has regulated amateur wrestling as an athletic discipline, and set the "Rules of the Game". From this date, and encouraged by the newly created International Federation, wrestling developed in every country. The UWW regulates international competition, including the Olympic Games, and has held World Championships in Greco-Roman wrestling from 1950 and in freestyle from 1951. In 1987 Norway was host to the first World women’s wrestling championship and women's wrestling was added to the Summer Olympics in 2004.