How It Began
An Egyptian funerary inscription of 1430 BC records that the warrior Amenhotep II was also renowned for his feats of oarsmanship. In the Aeneid, Virgil mentions rowing forming part of the funeral games arranged by Aeneas in honour of his father. In the 13th century, Venetian festivals called regata included boat races among others.
In ancient times, rowing vessels, especially galleys, were extensively used in naval warfare and trade, in particular in the Mediterranean from classical antiquity onwards. Galleys had advantages over sailing ships; they were easier to maneuver, capable of short bursts of speed, and able to move independently of the wind. Galleys continued in use in the Mediterranean until the advent of steam propulsion. Their use in northern Atlantic waters was less successful, finishing with their poor performance with the Spanish Armada.
The Classical trireme used 170 rowers; later galleys included even larger crews. Trireme oarsmen used leather cushions to slide over the seats, which allowed them to use their leg strength as a modern oarsman does with a sliding seat. Galleys usually had masts and sails, but when about to enter combat would lower them. Greek fleets would also leave their sails and masts on shore (as being unnecessary weight) if possible
The Evolution Of Rowing
The first known "modern" rowing races began from competition among the professional watermen that provided ferry and taxi service on the River Thames in London. Prizes for wager races were often offered by the London Guilds and Livery Companies or wealthy owners of riverside houses. The oldest surviving such race, Doggett's Coat and Badge was first contested in 1715 and is still held annually from London Bridge to Chelsea. During the nineteenth century these races were to become numerous and popular, attracting large crowds. Prize matches amongst professionals similarly became popular on other rivers throughout Great Britain in the nineteenth century, notably on the Tyne. In America, the earliest known race dates back to 1756 in New York, when a pettiauger defeated a Cape Cod whaleboat in a race. Amateur competition in England began towards the end of the eighteenth century. Documentary evidence from this period is sparse, but it is known that the Monarch Boat Club of Eton College and the Isis Club of Westminster School were both in existence in the 1790s. The Star Club and Arrow Club in London for gentlemen amateurs were also in existence before 1800. At the University of Oxford bumping races were first organised in 1815 when Brasenose College and Jesus College boat clubs had the first annual race while at Cambridge the first recorded races were in 1827. Brasenose won Oxford University's first Head of the River and claim to be the oldest established boat club in the world. The Boat Race between Oxford University and Cambridge University first took place in 1829, and was the second intercollegiate sporting event (following the first Varsity Cricket Match by 2 years). The interest in the first Boat Race and subsequent matches led the town of Henley to begin hosting an annual regatta in 1839.
Rowing at the Summer Olympics has been part of the competition since its debut in the 1900 Summer Olympics. Rowing was on the program at the 1896 Summer Olympics but was cancelled due to bad weather. Only men were allowed to compete until the women's events were introduced at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. Lightweight rowing events (which have weight-limited crews) were introduced to the games in 1996. Qualifying for the rowing events is under the jurisdiction of the International Rowing Federation (or FISA, its French acronym). FISA predates the modern Olympics and was the first international sport federation to join the modern Olympic movement.