Physical Education in the Early Middle Ages


gymnasticsPhysical Education in the Early Middle Ages

By Ludwig H. Joseph

CIBA Symposia, Vol.10:5 (1949)

Introduction: Since its origins in Antiquity, the concepts of gymnastics has not been uniform. Educational and medical gymnastics were already known to the Greeks. Generally speaking, all definitions of gymnastics can be reduced to two. First, that every intensified movement is gymnastic exercise. This definition may be traced back to Paulus Aegineta (625-690 AD) and Oribasius of Pergamon (326-403 AD), two Greco-Roman physicians, and in the 17th century only Quercetanus (DuChesne) agreed with it. In contrast, the second definition introduces in each exercise the idea of active volition. This definition was transmitted to the Middle Ages by Galen and Avicenna, and almost all authors until modern times accepted it. The concept of medical gymnastics included all healthful and health-furthering exercises. For this reason physicians at all times advised the avoidance by any exaggerated activity, particularly professional athletics. The concept includes both preventive and therapeutic gymnastics, the latter including gymnastics for the sick, weak, elderly. To introduce medical gymnastics, medieval authors referred to two classical authorities, Asclepiades (128-68 BC) and Herodicus (5th century BC). The former used gymnastics in connection with massage and dietetics. Herodicus was a scholar and contemporary of Hippocrates. He applied therapeutic gymnastics excessively, and was reproached by Hippocrates for treating fever patients by gymnastics.

The foundation of our modern gymnastics, including medical gymnastics, was established during the period from the Middle Ages to the 18th century, although the ideas upon which it was based had been in general use since Antiquity. During the early Middle Ages, the gymnastic practices of the classic Greco-Roman era were forgotten together with so many other things. It is frequently said, the strongly ascetic sentiment of early Christianity had no feeling for bodily exercise. But there were also economic motives which forbade the continuance of the classic gymnastics. The Middle Ages and even the Renaissance did not have as much available money as Greeks and Romans invested in palestras, thermae, theaters and circuses.


Click here to read this article from the Iowa Health and Physical Readiness Alliance