There is little to no direct knowledge available about the earliest times of man’s gymnastics activities. There is no doubt among historians that people performed gymnastics and gymnastics-related activities like tumbling, jumping, swinging movements and group acrobatics early in the history of mankind in a number of areas around the world.
The History of Sport, Exercise and Physical Fitness
Gymnastics is one of the world’s oldest physical activities and sports and its roots can be traced back thousands of years. There is evidence of early forms of gymnastics in the ancient civilizations in the Middle East and Asia. Gymnastics, in the form of acrobatics, calisthenics, precision drills and disciplined exercise has been around since ancient times.
7000 Years and Counting
Gymnastics was most likely first depicted in Egyptians artifacts. The earliest known physical evidence of gymnastics can be found in the art of ancient Egypt, where female acrobats performed for the Pharaohs and the Egyptian nobility. Acrobats entertained Egyptian nobility around 7,000 years ago judging by ancient frescoes. Many of these drawings have been dated and authenticated as far back as 5000 BC. These Egyptian hieroglyphs depict such gymnastics activities as backbend variations and partner stunts.
No Bull Vaulting
Beginning about 2,700 BC, acrobats would vault over the backs of bulls on the island of Crete when the Minoan civilization flourished. This is recorded in a well-known fresco from Crete at the palace at Knossos. It depicts a vaulter performing what is either a cartwheel or handspring over a charging bull.
No Warm-Ups and No Practice Vaults
The art of bull leaping as developed in Minoan Crete was performed by both men and women. The athlete would run toward a charging bull, grab its horns, and when tossed into the air, would execute various aerial movements, landing on the bull’s back, and dismount and land on his or her feet on the other side of the bull. This early gymnastics-related event required both and strength, courage, grace and style. Without really knowing, we could predict that this version of the sport had a very high injury and mortality rate.
The Spread of the Sport
By 800 BC, Greece, China, Persia and India were using gymnastics for military training. Gymnastics as practiced from early times appears to have spread from Egypt to Greece and Rome.