Did people swim in the Middle Ages? Medieval Swimming
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Medieval Swimming

Women bathing
Women swimming in the Seljuk kingdom (1494 AD)

The fall of the Roman Empire and the Sassanian Empire in the 500s AD doesn't seem to have made much difference to swimming. People in In the medieval Islamic Empire kept right on swimming. Women and men still swam, naked as always.

August - duc de berry
Men and women swimming in the Middle Ages (Tres Riches
Heures du Duc de Berry (ca. 1450 AD)

People swam further west, in Early Medieval Europe, too. In the 600s AD, the fictional character Beowulf could swim. In the late 700s AD, the real king Charlemagne could also swim, and people were swimming in China too. But then the Turks and the Mongols conquered most of Asia and Europe, and they didn't swim. Most people stopped swimming. In Late Medieval Europe, as in this picture, people seem to be swimming breast-stroke and not the crawl. All across northern Asia, in China, in India, people had stopped swimming entirely, and even Europeans had stopped swimming the crawl stroke by the late Middle Ages. In places the Mongols didn't reach, theough, like Africa and the Americas, most people were still good swimmers.

Learn by doing: go for a swim! Can you do crawl and breast-stroke?
More about swimming in North and South America
More about swimming after 1500 AD

Bibliography and further reading about ancient and medieval games:

More about medieval games
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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