Sunday, 23 March 2008

Swimming Through The Ages

From Breakthrough Swimming:
In the ancient world, diverting rivers to protect city-states led to swimming for military purposes. Bas-reliefs housed in the British museum show a river-crossing by Assurnasir-pal, King of Assyria, and his army. When these reliefs were found in the ruins of the royal palace at Nimroud, students of swimming techniques were excited because here, at last, they expected to find evidence of swimming skills used in ancient times.

Nineteenth-century observers thought the reliefs showed soldiers swimming either sidestroke or the trudgeon stroke, while 20th-century observers concluded that the Assyrians were actually swimming the crawl stroke! And so, as always, conclusions are drawn from one’s own vantage point.

The Baths of Caracalla and other baths built by the Romans were enormous, but the swimming tanks set aside for actual swimming were very small.

Above: Impression of the Baths of Caracalla from multimedia software:

Those at Pompei were only 13 feet wide, and Cicero complained that he needed a wider pool to avoid hurting his hands against the wall.

Above: The palaestra at Pompei

However, the baths of Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus Valley were somewhat larger. They measured 39 feet long and 23 feet wide, and were said to have been the birthplace of a form of synchronized swimming that served a religious function (Cottrell 1960). All private houses had excellent bathrooms, so this was used for something other than personal hygiene (

Above: The Great Bath at Mohenjo Daro could have been used for ritual or religious bathing.

Above: Reconstruction of the Great Bath. Global Heritage Fund

Later European In the Middle Ages swimming became unpopular in Europe because people believed water helped spread plague and other common epidemics. When people did swim, they preferred a form of breaststroke that kept their faces out of the water. Not untilo the second half of the nineteenth century was prejudice against swimming largely overcome.

In 16th and 17th century Europe, the breaststroke was performed with the head held high and completely out of the water. Instead of using a frog kick, propulsion was applied with the insteps and not the soles of the feet.

Early in the 19th century, breaststroke swimmers adopted a frog kick in which the ankles were dorsi-flexed and propulsion developed by pressing the soles of the feet against the water.

The Ancient Egyptians as far back as 2500BC swam for pleasure.

"Egyptians were very good swimmers, and they loved to do it. One hieroglyph shows a man swimming; this and other drawings make it look quite likely that ancient Egyptians could swim a style resembling the modern front crawl. Royal and noble children often took swimming lessons, as mentioned in a biographical inscription of a Middle Kingdom nobleman." (

2,000 years later, the Greeks and Romans used swimming as part of warrior training. The Romans also listed diving into the sea from the cliffs as one of their sporting pastimes.

In 1BC swimming competitions were held in Japan.

During the middle ages in Europe (5th - 15th centuries), however, immersion in water was associated with recurrent epidemic disease and therefore swimming was discouraged. Witchcraft was rife at this time, and one test of a witch was whether they would drown if submerged in water. It's understandable, therefore that swimming did not become popular again until the 19th century.

Swimming is now one of the most popular sports in the world.
From Wikipedia:
Swimming has been known since prehistoric times; the earliest recording of swimming dates back to Stone Age paintings from around 6,000 years ago. Written references date from 2000BC. Some of the earliest references include the Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Bible (Ezekiel 47:5, Acts 27:42, Isaiah 25:11), Beowulf, and other sagas.

In 1538 Nikolaus Wynmann, a German professor of languages, wrote the first swimming book, The Swimmer or A Dialogue on the Art of Swimming (Der Schwimmer oder ein Zwiegespräch über die Schwimmkunst).

Competitive swimming in Europe started around 1800, mostly using breaststroke. In 1873 John Arthur Trudgen introduced the trudgen to Western swimming competitions, after copying the front crawl used by Native Americans. Due to a British disregard for splashing, Trudgen employed a scissor kick instead of the front crawl's flutter kick.

Swimming was part of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens.

In 1902 Richard Cavill introduced the front crawl to the Western world. In 1908, the world swimming association, Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA), was formed. Butterfly was developed in the 1930s and was at first a variant of breaststroke, until it was accepted as a separate style in 1952.

Ancient times Cave paintings from the Stone Age were found in the "Cave of Swimmers" near Wadi Sora on the Gilf Kebir plateau in southwestern Egypt, near the Lybian border. These pictures seem to show breaststroke or dog paddle, although it may also be possible that the movements have a ritual meaning unrelated to swimming. This cave is also featured in the movie The English Patient.

An Egyptian clay seal dated between 4000 BC and 9000 BC shows four swimmers who are believed to be swimming a variant of the front crawl.

More references to swimming are found in Babylonian bas-reliefs and Assyrian wall drawings, depicting a variant of the breaststroke. The most famous drawings were found in the Kebir desert and are estimated to be from around 4000 BC. The Nagoda bas-relief also shows swimmers dating back from 3000 BC.

The Indian palace Mohenjo Daro from 2800 BC contains a swimming pool sized 30 m by 60m.

The Minoan palace of Knossos in Crete also featured baths.

An Egyptian tomb from 2000 BC shows a variant of the front crawl.

Depictions of swimmers were also found from the Hittites, Minoans, and other Middle Eastern civilizations, in the Tepantitla compound at Teotihuacan, and in mosaics in Pompeii.

Written references date back to 2000 BC including Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Bible (Ezekiel 47:5, Acts 27:42, Isaiah 25:11), Beowulf, and other sagas, although the style is never described. There are also many mentions of swimmers in the Vatican, Borgian and Bourbon codices.

The Greeks did not include swimming in the ancient Olympic Games, but practiced the sport, often building swimming pools as part of their baths. One common insult in Greece was to say about somebody that he/she neither knew how to run nor swim. Swimming is an integral part of the tale of Hero and Leander and of the 7th-century poet Arion.

The Etruscans at Tarquinia (Italy) show pictures of swimmers in 600 BC, and tombs in Greece depict swimmers 500 BC. The Greek Scyllis was taken prisoner on a ship of the Persian king Xerxes I in 480 BC. After learning about an impending attack on the Greek Navy, he stole a knife and jumped overboard. During the night and using a snorkel made from reed; he swam back to the ships and cut them loose. It was also said that the ability to swim saved the Greeks at the Battle of Salamis, while the Persians all drowned when their ships were destroyed.
In Ancient Rome, swimming was considered a healthy practice, and swimming races were held in the Tiber River. Julius Caesar himself was known to be a good swimmer.

A series of reliefs from 850 BC in the Nimrud Gallery of the British Museum show swimmers, mostly in military context, often using swimming aids.

In Japan swimming was one of the noble skills of the Samurai, and historic records describe swimming competitions in 36 BC organized by Emperor Suigui (spelling unclear), which are the first known swimming races.

Germanic folklore describes swimming, which was used successfully in wars against the Romans. Swimming competitions are also known from that time.
Middle Ages to 1800Swimming was initially one of the seven agilities of knights during the Middle Ages, including swimming with armour[citation needed]. However, as swimming was done in a state of undress, it became less popular as society became more conservative in the early Modern period. For example, in the 16th century, a German court document in the Vechta prohibited the naked public swimming of children.
Leonardo da Vinci made early sketches of lifebelts.

In 1538 Nicolas Wynman, German professor of languages, wrote the first swimming book Colymbetes. His goal wasn't exercise, but instead it was to reduce the dangers of drowning. Nevertheless, the book contained a very good and methodical approach to learning breaststroke, and includes swimming aids such as air filled cow bladders, reed bundles, or cork belts.

In 1587, Everard Digby[born about 1550 in England] also wrote a swimming book, claiming that humans can swim better than fish. Digby was a Senior Fellow at St. John's College, Cambridge University, interested in the scientific method. His short treatise, De arte natandi, was written in Latin and contained over 40 woodcut illustrations depicting various methods of swimming, including the breaststroke, backstroke and the crawl. Digby regarded the breaststroke as the most useful form of swimming.

In 1603 the first national swimming organization was established in Japan. Emperor Go-Yozei of Japan declared that school children should swim.

In 1696, the French author Melchisédech Thévenot (1620 or 1621 to 1692) wrote The Art of Swimming, describing a breaststroke very similar to the modern breaststroke. This book was translated into English and became the standard reference of swimming for many years to come, and was read by Benjamin Franklin.

In 1708, the first known lifesaving group "Chinkiang Association for the Saving of Life" was established in China.

Benjamin Franklin is credited with the invention of the swimming fins at the age of ten, in 1716.

In 1739 Guts Muts (also spelled as Guts Muth) from Schnepfenthal, Germany, wrote "Gymnastik für die Jugend" (Exercise for the youth), including a significant portion about swimming.

In 1794 Kanonikus Oronzio de Bernardi of Italy wrote a two volume book about swimming, including floating practice as a prerequisite for swimming studies.
In 1798 Guts Muts wrote another book "Kleines Lehrbuch der Schwimmkunst zum Selbstunterricht" (Small study book of the art of swimming for self study), recommending the use of a "fishing rod" device to aid in the learning of swimming. His books describe a three step approach to learn swimming that is still used today. First, get the student used to the water, second, practice the swimming movements out of the water, third, practice the swimming movements in the water. He believed that swimming is an essential part of every education.

More lifesaving groups were established in 1767 (1768?) in Amsterdam by the Dutch, 1772 in Copenhagen, and in 1774 by Great Britain. In 1768 a humane society was established in the United States. In 1796, a (still existing) swimming club, the Upsala Simsällskap, was founded in Uppsala, Sweden. The Haloren, a group of salt makers in Halle, Germany, greatly advanced swimming through setting a good example to others by teaching their children swimming at a very early age.The adults were very good swimers themselves.


Enslaved Swimmers and Divers in the Atlantic World
Kevin Dawson

Long before a single coastal or interior West African was enslaved and cargoed off to toil the length of his days under the skies of the New World, many had become adept swimmers and underwater divers. West Africans often grew up along riverbanks, near lakes, or close to the ocean. In those waterways, many became proficient swimmers, incorporating this skill into their work and recreation. When carried to the Americas, slaves brought this ability with them, where it helped shape generations of bondpeople's occupational and leisure activities.

From the age of discovery up through the nineteenth century, the swimming and underwater diving abilities of people of African descent often surpassed those of Europeans and their descendants. Indeed, most whites, including sailors, probably could not swim. To reduce drowning deaths, some philanthropists advocated that sailors and others learn to swim.

In 1838 the Sailor's Magazine, a New York City missionary magazine, published the inscription on a city placard titled "Swimming." It read: "For want of knowledge of this noble art thousands are annually sacrificed, and every fresh victim calls more strongly upon the best feelings of those who have the power to draw the attention of such persons as may be likely to require this art, to the simple fact, that there is no difficulty in floating or swimming." Similarly, Theodorus Bailey Myers Mason's 1879 pamphlet, The Preservation of Life at Sea, claimed, "The great majority of people cannot swim, and strange as it may seem to you, there are many who follow the sea as a profession who cannot swim a stroke." Mason then proclaimed that, as part of their instruction, all United States Naval Academy cadets should be taught to swim

The history of slavery has largely been a history of fields—tobacco, sugar, indigo, rice, and cotton fields. The most influential works on slavery have properly focused on agricultural bondage and how it shaped slavery's development and defined the majority of owner-slave relationships. A few historians, such as Richard Price, W. Jeffrey Bolster, David S. Cecelski, Michael Craton, and Thomas Buchanan, have studied maritime slavery, the work of enslaved people in sailing, fishing, and whaling.

A handful of scholars have mentioned slaves as swimmers, but there has been no sustained study of their recreational and occupational swimming and underwater diving Although most bondpeople were agricultural laborers, that did not preclude swimming. Most plantations were located near waterways to facilitate the transportation of slave-produced goods to market, and rice plantations throughout the Americas were typically situated on tidal waterways, which were vital to the irrigation of this crop. Thus, large numbers of plantation slaves had ready access to waters in which to swim.

Since the mid-twentieth century, scholars have increasingly appreciated slaves' ability to transmit African skills and practices to the Americas and have examined how cultural retentions shaped the development of both black and white sociocultural institutions. In his 1933 book, The Masters and the Slaves, Gilberto Freyre asserted that slaves "Africanized" Brazilian culture by infusing it with African traditions. Melville J. Herskovits's 1941 book, The Myth of the Negro Past, challenged the assertions of U. B. Phillips and E. Franklin Frazier that slavery denuded bondpeople of their African heritage, arguing that shards of African culture, especially those pertaining to dance, music, religion, and art, were carried to the Americas.


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