Since ancient times man has sought ways to go below the sea level. The history of diving starts from the antiquity when man was not aware of the dangers of the unnatural habitat and the physiological changes that occur in the human organism. He dived in the sea depths using very simple devices. What attracted him so strongly under the water surface? First and foremost, sea life was a source of food – it provided tasty crabs, mussels, fish, turtles, and other sea creatures. The shiny “stones” found in oysters also caught diver’s eye. Book XVI of the Iliad proves the existence of divers before the Homer period (i.e. 7-th century BC) – “… how active he is and how well he dives. If we had been at sea this fellow would have dived from the ship’s side and brought up as many oysters as the whole crew could stomach…” In the past, sponges were much in demand and they were gathered from the sea bed in large quantities. Mother-of-pearl ornaments that were found in the Egyptian pyramids (built roughly 4500 years BC) are another evidence for developed diving in this remote epoch. It is well-known that pearl shells cannot be hunted in any other way but by unsticking them from the sea floor. Pearl shells were also popular among peoples from other ancient cultures. For example, the Emperor of China received an oyster pearl tribute around 2250 BC.

Manuscripts show intricate paths in the history of spearfishing. In 1976, a strange discovery was made in a gorge on Wrangel Island. Among the tools of an ancient Eskimo village was found a spear with a bone head dated about 4000 years. Certainly, it served as a weapon for underwater fishing in the north conditions.
Salvage work (finding treasures and valuables from wrecked ships) had long been practiced in the past. In 300 BC the people of Rhodes in the eastern Mediterranean had a law which defined the amount of payment for divers who managed to salvage property. The deeper the diver went, the more money he received.

People of the past saw the advantages of life underwater in military operations. Hidden under the sea surface with the help of primitive devices, ancient warriors stroke a blow on their enemies who believed they were safe being surrounded by the expanse of water. Pictures of underwater assaults can be found on vases and utensils from Egypt and Phoenicia, in stories and sayings, in written documents and later in pictures, films and books – “History” by Herodotus, “Historia Naturalis” by Pliny, etc. In his book “History of the Peloponnesian War”, Thucydides tells about divers who performed military tasks such as drilling the hulls of enemy’s ship and cutting ships’ rigging and mooring lines. The earliest illustration of underwater warriors is the famous Assyrian bas-relief from 880 BC which is now exhibited in the British Museum. The bas-relief depicts submerged Assyrian warriors who chase an enemy ship breathing from leather skins. The historian Herodotus depicts the battle of Artemisium which took place in the 5th century BC. In the period of the Persian Wars, the Greek Scyllis was taken prisoner by the Persian King Xerxes. When Scyllis found out that the powerful Persian fleet was intending to attack the Greeks, he grabbed a knife and jumped in the water. The Persians thought that he had drowned. In the night, Scyllis cut the Persian ships from their mooring lines and swam away, thus saving the Greeks from certain death. He used a hollow reed to breathe under water.

Another curious story is the one told by Thucydides about the siege of Syracuse by the Greeks in 414 BC. The Syracusans fixed some thick wooden stakes in front of the harbor. The stakes did not come out of the surface and damaged the Athen ships like underwater rocks. However, Athen divers pulled out the stakes and cleared the way for their ships.

Dion Casii provides fascinating evidence about the use of “Urinators” (that’s what divers were called in ancient Rome). He describes the siege of Byzantium by Septimius Severus. The great Roman fleet blocked all outlets on the sea. One day, the Romans noticed with surprise that their ships floated without wind and oars towards the enemy fortress. It turned out that the ships were towed with ropes, which were secretly attached by underwater warriors from Byzantium to the bottom of the ships.

It is also known that during the siege of Tyre in 332 BC, Alexander the Great had to cope with kalimboi (the Greek name for diving warriors).

How did the ancient divers manage to stay submerged? The whole history of diving is based on the struggle of man for breathing and prolonging the time of being below the water surface. With his first steps into the underwater world, man was confronted with the necessity to better the devices he used for diving. The earliest divers submerged naked, with a stone which served as weight. They felt the influence of the major factors that opposed man at diving – lack of breathing air, increased water pressure and low temperature. That is why the development of diving in its earliest stages is connected with the improvement of technological devices which facilitate human stay under water.

FROM: library.thinkquest