Row Like an Egyptian: A History of Rowing Throughout the Ages

Rowing is arguably the most physically demanding and intense sport known to men and women. It fosters bonds between its athletes like that of no other sport. Rowing is also extraordinary in terms of another aspect: its rich and long history.

Every ancient power used rowing as a form of transportation, commerce and war. Yet over the years, rowing has evolved into a form of competition and sport. Competitive rowing for leisure was first recorded in 1430 BC, where a funerary carving for Pharaoh Amenhotep II depicted the king as a rower and detailed some of the competitions he won against rival Egyptian nobles (1). Who knew you could “Row Like an Egyptian”! During the fourteenth century, competitive rowing could be found at Carnevale regattas — events used to celebrate the beautiful aquatic setting of Venice. Rowing teams and individual rowers raced on the milky blue waters of Venice’s narrow canals and waterways (2). While rowing has been used for competition and celebration, it truly evolved into an organized sport in England.

In London, 1715, the first official “regatta” was a contest established by Irish actor and playwright Thomas Doggett, where the winning rower was awarded a coat and badge (3) Students at Eton College, located west of London, quickly picked up the sport, and once they graduated, brought rowing to Oxford and Cambridge. Founded in 1829, the famous Oxford Vs. Cambridge race is highly anticipated to this day (4). Organized sport rowing made its debut in the US with the Harvard-Yale race in 1852 (5). Its reputation as a pass time of blue-collared workers quickly morphed into leisure for the middle and upper class. Spectators began to bet on rowing and it became more commercialized as merchants situated on rivers with good racing waters saw the sport as an opportunity to sponsor regattas and draw consumers to their towns (6). Rowing picked up momentum as clubs and organizations were created in countries including Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and Hong Kong. Everyone suddenly wanted a seat in the boat.

Today, rowing is truly a sport for anyone who wants to pick up an oar. We have technologies that can measure our power, tell us how fast we’re going or need to go, and improve our technique. We even have the ability to adapt boats for anyone with a disability. Programs around the world are changing lives by instilling in their rowers confidence, work ethic, and a sense of community. Anyone who is lucky enough to experience the joys of being on the water will find himself or herself a part of this great history.

It’s time to blast the Bangles in the erg room! (Remix anybody?)




“History of Crew.” Rockford Rowing. Accessed January 31, 2017. (5)

“Neglected.” Accessed January 31, 2017. (3,4,6)

“The History Of Rowing.” Accessed January 31, 2017. (1,2)


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