Some of the first gyms in the world can be traced back to Ancient Persia 3000 years ago; they were called zurkhaneh, which literally meant “house of strength”.
However, it was in Ancient Greece that gyms become a truly popular and important part of the society. The Greeks considered physical education to be just as important as cognitive learning.
Pompeii gymnasium from the top of the stadium wall. Photo Credit
The modern word “gym” is derived from the Greek gymnasium which means “school for naked exercise”. The Greek gymnasium was a place for both the physical and intellectual education of young men over 18. The curricula of gym included gymnastica militaria or self-defense, gymnastica medica, which was physical therapy to help the sick and injured, and gymnastica athletica for physical fitness and sports, from boxing to dance.
Most of the gymnasiums in ancient Greek were furnished with libraries and baths and had teachers of wisdom and philosophy. It is said that athletes competed nude as a tribute to the gods, but also to encourage an aesthetic appreciation of the male body.Gymnasium
Gymnasia were believed to be under the protection of Heracles, Hermes, and Theseus. During various village festivals, gymnastic events were performed as part of the opening celebrations.A hermaic sculpture of an old man thought to be the master of a gymnasium from 2nd century BC Afghanistan
Young men who attended the gymnasia were considered to have a bright and prosperous future ahead of them, and people who were not both physically and mentally well-educated were looked down upon. In Ancient Greece there was a phrase of contempt, “He can neither swim nor write.”
“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”
Gymnasium Photo Credit
Eventually, the Olympic athletes began training in separate buildings. Gyms were slowly stripped of their former glory and became more used for military service and spectator sports.
The art and philosophy of the gymnasium became completely abandoned under the rule the Roman Empire. Sport never became as widespread and important in ancient Roman society as it had been for the Greeks.