Origin of Swimming

The History & Origin of Swimming

Swimming is one of the most recognizable sports in the world. But how did it become so popular? Well, if we want to map out the history of swimming and find out where it originated, then we will have to go back.

Some of the earliest drawings from the Stone Age in Egypt show people swimming. References to people swimming are found in the Bible, Odyssey and the Iliad. 

Depictions of people swimming were recorded in drawings on the wall of the “cave of swimmers.” The cave of swimmers can be found in Wadi Sora, Egypt. Further proof of the swimming skill of Egyptians can be seen in a clay seal that is thought to have been created between 4000 B.C. and 9000 B.C.

Woman swimming underwater.
Photo by Jess Loiterton.

Some of the most famous drawings of swimming can be found in the Kebir desert. These date from about 4000 B.C. Other depictions of swimmers can be seen in civilizations such as the Minoans, Hittites, and other cultures throughout the Middle East. 

There is evidence of swimming in the Inca cultures in Central America and ancient India. During this period, it is most likely that swimming was practiced in other parts of the world. However, it was not recorded anywhere. 

The origins of swimming races came much later in the Western World. Historical records of the period 36 B.C. have graphic descriptions of the first-ever swimming competitions.

Woman doing the front crawl swimming stroke.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko.

When Did Swimming Originate?

Thousands of years ago, swimming had very practical purposes. Swimming was used to find food, travel from place to place and bathing. Swimming was also used as an exercise activity throughout the ancient world. 

Some of the first records of organized swimming trace back to Ancient Egypt and the year 2500 B.C. Swimming pools were used in Ancient Greece around 800 B.C. for bathing and exercise. Bathhouses and swimming pools were communal gatherings places in Ancient Rome around 100 B.C.

Modern athletic swimming is believed to have started in Great Britain, where the National Swimming Society was formed in 1837. The society held races in indoor swimming pools around Britain. However, Australia held some of the first swimming championships in the mid-1840s.

In 1896, the first ever modern Olympics were held in Athens, Greece. Swimming was featured as one of the sports at these Olympics and has remained an Olympic sport ever since. 

At the time of the first modern Olympics, there were only four swimming events. These events were two 100-meter, 500-meter and 1200-meter.

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The Origins of Swimming in the Middle Ages

One of the seven skills that knights had to have in the Middle Ages was the ability to swim while wearing armor. 

The origins of the first-ever book about swimming can be traced to the Middle Ages and was written by a German Professor. He wrote the book “Colymbetes,” not to show people how to exercise but to stop them from drowning. The book showed techniques involved with doing the breaststroke and swimming aids. The English equivalent of “Colymbetes” appeared around the same time and was written by E. Digby. 

Swimming in the main was performed naked. During this period, swimming naked was opposed by the Church as ungodly. 

In 1603, the Japanese Emperor organized the National Swimming Federation which aimed to teach Japanese schoolchildren how to swim. 

Woman swimming
Photo by Freepik.

Who Invented Swimming?

No one person can be named to have invented swimming. Swimming itself was started by the very first humans and was a natural activity that has been practiced for many centuries. 

As a sport, the National Swimming Society can be considered as being the inventors of modern swimming. They held competitions in Britain in the early 19th century. This led to the development of the modern sport, both in Olympics and school swimming competitions. 

When Was Swimming Established?

Swimming was established at different times in different countries. 

In Great Britain, swimming was first established in 1837. Their first swimming organization had six indoor pools. 

In Australia, swimming was established in 1846. Australia held swimming championships.

In the United States, swimming was established in 1888.

The Federation Internationale de Natation Amateur (FINA) was formed in 1908. This was the first-ever global swimming association. They laid out rules, regulation, and competitions for years to come. The association governed the sport of diving and other aquatic sports.

5 swimmers racing.
Photo by drobotdean.

When did Swimming Become Popular?

Swimming became popular during the 1800s. In this century, many modern-day sports were just starting up including swimming. However, swimming became popular much quicker than other sports. 

There were a variety of competitions and championships that were held right away after the invention of swimming. This created interest in the world of swimming and lead to the first modern Olympics. 

In 1896, the first modern Olympics took place. Here swimming was a big success, This significantly increased the global popularity of swimming. 

The Origins of Modern-Day Swimming

During the first modern day Olympics in 1896, only males were allowed to participate in the swimming event. It wasn’t until the Olympic Games in 1912 that women were allowed to compete. 

Swimming grew in popularity again during the 19th century. By this time, the popularity of the sport was so big that over 300 clubs had been formed regionally. 

Woman diving into pool.
Photo by Freepik.

Most Popular Countries for Swimming

Countries where swimming is particularly popular:

  • Britain

  • Australia

  • United States

  • Canada

  • Germany

  • China

  • Italy

  • Russia

  • Hungary

  • Netherlands

Woman swimming in ocean.
Photo by Freepik.

History of Swimming Timeline

  • 2500 B.C.: Egyptian hieroglyphics depicting swimming

  • 800 B.C.: The ancient Greeks use swimming pools for bathing and exercise

  • 100 B.C.: The ancient Romans use swimming pools and bathhouses for communal recreation

  • 26 B.C.: Japanese historic records describe swimming competitions

  • 78 A.D.: Romans introduced simming as a social event to Britain

  • 1400s: The Catholic Church objects to naked bathing on moral grounds

  • 1800s: Arobatic diving is developed in Germany and Sweden

  • 1830s: Swimming competitions begin to be held in Britain

  • 1837: The National Swimming Society is formed

  • 1846: Australia holds its first championships

  • 1862: The first documented indoor swimming pool is built in England

  • 1873: Invention of the front crawl by John Trudgen

  • 1888: The Amateur Athletic Union is founded in the United States

  • 1896: The first modern Olympics occurs

  • 1900: The backstroke is added as an event to the Olympics

  • 1908: FINA is founded

  • 1912: Women’s swimming events are added to the Olympics

  • 1924: Swimming becomes an official NCAA sport

  • 1956: The butterfly stroke is first introduced to the Olympics

  • 1970: Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics for Women sanctions women’s swimming

  • 1976: Goggles begin to be used for Olympic swimming competitions

  • 1981: Womens swimming becomes an official NCAA sport

  • Today: The National Swimming Pool Foundation estimates there are more than 10 million swimming pools across the US, including more than 360,000 public pools that are open year round

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Also read our most recent blog: Water Aerobics and Its Benefits.

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Written by Emma Suarez.
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