Swimming in the sea was necessary for many in ancient Rome or Greece, but did they do it for recreation?

  • 1
    I have seen a picture of a Roman pool created from the sea made for relaxation and swimming. I think it was at Baiae or maybe Capri. I will have to look it up when i get chance. – ed.hank Feb 1 '19 at 18:51
  • 1
    There are two (sourced) Quora posts and a reddit post on this which cite Pliny, Cicero, Suetonius and others. – Lars Bosteen Feb 2 '19 at 0:07
  • @ed.hank That might have been at the Villa dei Papiri, Herculaneum. A pool near the beach rises the question if they prefered this to the sea though, rather than demonstrating a preference to the beach. – HannesH Feb 2 '19 at 11:27
  • @LarsBosteen What they describe and reference is that rich romans liked the seaside, and often had beaches near their villas. That could well be the landing grounds for boats though, since you might prefer to come to your villa by the sea rather than land travel. Pools near the beach in e.g. Herculaneum do not seem to favour the beach either. Swimming is mentioned by Pliny for North Africa, which hints to i beeing peculiar to romans rather than it beeing common. – HannesH Feb 2 '19 at 11:52
  • Fair enough, but you might want to add a little more detail to your question so that it's clear what you are looking for (comments may get deleted). Also, please document your research so people don't waste time looking where you've already been. – Lars Bosteen Feb 3 '19 at 1:16

Yes, they did. Cumea for example, was a popular resort for the rich and famous. They fled the summer heat (and the malaria) of Rome to the beach.

I don't have any references, but some (very) rich Romans had heated seawater swimming pools constructed on their properties.

Going to the beach is not exactly what we do today. Going back a wee bit in time: my grandfather lived in the Dutch beach resort Scheveningen (period 1880-1900). In summer he rented out rooms to tourists. I've seen old photos in which people were dressed in bathing costumes (with long sleeves for both arms and legs) wearing hats went in the water. That was about it; they splashed each other with water. Some swam a bit. People went into the water in enclosed carriages. In the carriages they changed clothing and went into the water.

Sunning was frowned upon. The general believe was that a suntan was something bad and besides, only peasants had a suntan. You don't want to look like a peasant, do you?

Sunning on the beach, playing beach volleyball or other games, huge crowds on the beach in Roman times - forget about it. The Romans, most certainly the upper crust, didn't want to get suntan. They weren't racist in the modern meaning of the word, but definitely didn't want to look like sun burned peasants or slaves.

The beaches wouldn't have been crowded with holiday makers. People had to make a living. Only the wealthy could afford relaxing in a beach resort. Everybody else worked.

What did they exactly do? I have no idea. But I can make educated guesses: first of all, we're talking about the very rich. That's not a big group. Most very rich people got to be wealthy and important later in life. I can't imagine Roman senators or business tycoons racing each other to the beach. They probably strolled along the beach - which was fairly empty. Some fishermen at work likely, perhaps a few people offering snacks, refreshments, etc to them.

I'm sure their younger offspring would have had fun on the beach. But again, not exactly as we perceive beach holidays today.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    They fled to the seaside, but why do you think they fled to the beach, as in swimming? – HannesH Feb 2 '19 at 11:55
  • 2
    I agree with the previous comment: this does not answer the question. – Alex Feb 2 '19 at 15:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.