Did the ancient Greeks like to swim and go to the beach?



Bathing beach of the ancient Greeks
Swimmers in Antiquity. Credit: public domain

Every summer, Greeks flock to the beaches of the Aegean and Ionian seas to swim, sunbathe or relax in quaint taverns or modern beach bars. But did the ancient Greeks swim and enjoy the beach like we do today?

What was the relationship of the ancient Greeks to the beach? It may seem unlikely that the Athenians or the well-to-do Spartans inland would ride their chariots to the shore.

Although beach vacation culture didn’t really start until the late 1700s in Europe, as improved transportation made it easier to get to the sea, there is evidence that the ancient Greeks appreciated actually to lie down on the sandy shores of the country.

Ancient Greeks may have gone to the beach to escape the hot weather

Ancient Greeks swim on the beach
Alexander and Diogenes. Painting by Gaspar de Crayer. Public domain.

This story of Diogenes the Cynic sheds some light on:

Alexander the Great was passing through Corinth to gather the Greeks for his invasion of Persia. While he was there, he saw Diogenes on the beach.

Diogenes had the reputation of being the happiest man in the world – despite his nickname “The Cynic”. Alexander came to him and offered to give Diogenes everything he wanted.

Diogenes only asked Alexander to retire, he was blocking the sun.

As one commentator put it: “If I lived in Greece in ancient times, the weather made me look for water to cool off, especially if it was not far away.

“And living on an island would be around me all the time. I would probably be sitting and eating bread, maybe on a rock watching the waves and feeling the water against my legs.

The people of ancient times really knew how to swim

Ancient Greeks swim on the beach
The ancient Greeks showed swimming. Credit: public domain

It is indisputable, however, that the ancient Greeks knew how to swim and did so for pleasure or work.

Swimming was so natural to the ancient Greeks that there is no instruction on these exercises.

Children learned to swim according to their parents’ instructions, in the same way they learned to walk.

Plato considered a man who could not swim to be an uneducated man.

Aristotle believed that swimming in the sea is better for your health than swimming in lakes and rivers. He was also in favor of cold water rather than lukewarm.

Swimming physical activity was necessary for warriors who had to cross rivers or swim for a living in the event of a shipwreck in naval battles.

Remarkable is Homer’s description in The Iliad of the departure of the Greek navy for the Trojan War.

Thucydides informs us that during the Athenian siege of Sphacteria, the divers managed to bring provisions to the island’s Spartans by swimming underwater, towing baskets behind them.

The tomb of the diver. Credit: public domain

According to Herodotus’ descriptions of the Battle of Syracuse, the Athenians sent divers to destroy the stakes that the Syracusans placed underwater to prevent enemy ships from approaching.

He also attributes the large number of survivors of the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC to this fact.

“The Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece,” by Nigel Guy Wilson, says references to many swimming styles can be found, including breaststroke and crawl, and beginners had the help of life belts. cork.

A 5th-century fresco from Paestum shows a youth leaping from what appears to be a diving tower. There is also literary evidence of occasional swimming races in ancient Greece.


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