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

Swimmers in Antiquity. Credit: public domain

Every summer, Greeks flock to the beaches of the Aegean and Ionian Seas to swim, sunbathe or simply relax in quaint tavernas or modern beach bars. But did the ancient Greeks swim and enjoy the beach as much as we do today?

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

Although the culture of beach holidays 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 really enjoyed getting away from it all. lie 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 about Diogenes the Cynic enlightens us:

Alexander the Great was passing through Corinth to muster the Greeks for his invasion of Persia. 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 whatever he wanted.

Diogenes only asked Alexander to step aside, as he was blocking the sun.

As one commentator put it: “If I lived in Greece in ancient times, time would make 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,” the commenter added, so “I would probably sit and eat bread, maybe on a rock while watching the waves and smelling the water against my legs.”

People of antiquity certainly 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 it both for pleasure and for work.

Swimming was so natural to the ancient Greeks that there are no instructions on these exercises.

Children learned to swim as their parents taught them the same way they learned to walk.

Plato considered a man who could not swim as uneducated.

Aristotle believed that swimming in the sea is healthier than swimming in lakes and rivers. He was also in favor of cold rather than hot water.

The physical activity of swimming was necessary for warriors who had to cross rivers or swim to save their lives if they were shipwrecked in naval battles.

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

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

tomb
The Diver’s Tomb. Credit: public domain

According to Herodotus’ descriptions of the Battle of Syracuse, the Athenians sent divers to destroy the stakes which the Syracusans placed underwater to deter 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, indicates that references are found to many styles of swimming, including the breaststroke and the crawl, and that beginners had the aid of cork lifebuoys .

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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