It is difficult to say today when exactly man learned to swim. It can’t really be proven. But wherever people lived near water, swimming was certainly very important, if not essential. According to this, the history of swimming should be about as old as mankind itself.
Probably the oldest evidence of swimming was found precisely where there is only hot sand today: in a cave of Gilf Kebir in the Libyan desert, part of the Sahara .
The rock paintings are from our ancestors who lived shortly after the end of the last Ice Age and are around 8000 years old. The painted swimmers perform a lang stroke, a kind of breaststroke.
Researchers are certain that people were already good swimmers in the Stone Age . Anyone who could swim had an advantage: to save themselves from enemies, when hunting or to overcome obstacles.
Even today, most primitive peoples can swim, no matter on which continent they live. In other cultures, however, swimming has been rediscovered over the past centuries and then forgotten again.
Swimming and lifeguard in antiquity
Swimming was considered good manners in ancient Egypt . Nobles and children of kings had their personal lifeguarding Training. Even the women swam. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs depict the swimmer in alternating kicks. Apparently the Egyptians crawled through the water.
The Greeks considered you uneducated if you could neither read nor swim. In the high culture of ancient Greece people not only swam, but also bathed.
Hot air, steam or warm baths were very popular for relaxation. They were an important part of Greek gymnasiums. Of course, a swimming and lifeguard in pool could not be missing.
However, water sports were not an Olympic discipline. The most unbelievable aquatic achievements have been handed down from the Greek gods and heroes.
Swimming was also popular in ancient Rome . But it was only really learned for military purposes. Those who belonged to the army had to be able to swim with armor.
Bathing culture , on the other hand, experienced a real boom . The magnificent baths reflected the wealth of the emperors. They were all over the country. They had an elaborate hot air system in the walls and floors that regulated the temperature of the pools.
Public baths were available for the lower classes. The upper class had their private luxury bathing temples. A visit to the baths took hours. They were important places for social and political transactions.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, the many thermal baths became places of immorality. Along with the thermal baths, bathing culture also declined over time.
The Germans were excellent swimmers . They are known to have competed and successfully used their swimming skills in battles against the Romans.
According to tradition, the Germanic tribes had a swimming technique that can be compared to our freestyle swimming today. In addition, they were not squeamish and bathed in all seasons, even in the freezing cold. Besides, the bath was an effective remedy against diseases. There was no dress code. Men, women and children bathed naked.
Swimming ban in the Middle Ages
In the European Middle Ages , the image of the heroic swimmer changed and turned into its opposite. Particularly under the influence of medieval philosophy during the age of knights , bathing and swimming were opposed, as they were associated with the nakedness of the body.
From then on, water was considered a dangerous element. All sorts of horror stories grew up about murderous sea monsters and demons lurking under water. Out of fear, no one dared to go into open water. Generations of non-swimmers grew up. Drowning was a common cause of death during this period.
In addition, water was seen as a breeding ground for disease and moral rejection. Nevertheless, the so-called “bathrooms” experienced an upswing. Here women and men bathed naked in the same tub. They enjoyed social life with food, music and wine.
Many of the bathhouses simply degenerated into brothels. Much to the chagrin of the Church, which repeatedly responded with bans and punishments.
Enlightenment and a new beginning
Death by drowning is preventable in many cases. At least that’s what the university professor Nikolaus Wineman, who works in Ingolstadt, thought. In 1528 he published the world’s first swimming and lifeguard dictionary, “Columbates”, which ended up in the index.
Only the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries gradually brought about a rethink. Enlighteners like the Englishman John Locke or the Frenchman Jean Jacques Rousseau laid the foundation for swimming to become socially acceptable again as a form of physical exercise.
Also Read About: The Best Caribbean Beaches For 2019: The Ultimate List
In Germany, it was the philanthropist Johann Christoph Friedrich Guts-Muths who provided the necessary impetus. It was clear to him that swimming should become a main part of education. “Until now drowning has been fashionable because swimming is not fashionable,” he wrote in 1793. That should be changed.
For the first time since the decline of Roman bathing culture , public bathing establishments were created in western and central Europe. For example in Paris in 1760, in Frankfurt am Main in 1793 or in Heiligendamm near Doberan in 1793, where the first German lake and mud baths were built.