The History of Massage: An Illustrated Survey from Around the World

Robert Noah Calvert


The first comprehensive history of massage.

• Written by Robert Noah Calvert, the founder of Massage Magazine.
• Includes 200 black-and-white illustrations.
• The definitive resource for all students and professionals in the fields of massage and bodywork.

From the people of ancient Greece to the tribes of the Pacific Ocean, massage has been a significant element in medicine, midwifery, folk healing, and athletics. Yet the rich presence of healing touch is rarely manifest in the telling of human history. Now, for the first time, Robert Noah Calvert offers a comprehensive history of massage that spans the globe. Starting with the healing art’s ancient foundations, Calvert’s History of Massage leads us through Greek temples and Middle Eastern bathhouses, Chinese martial arts traditions and Native American sweat lodges, to discover the significant role of touch therapy in the life of the world’s people.

With rich use of anecdote and illustrated text, the author details the cross-cultural healing and sensual applications of massage, the development of massage technologies, and the emerging trends of massage in the twenty-first century. The History of Massage is groundbreaking work that should not be missed by anyone interested in massage and its benefits for healing.



  • What Is Massage?    1
  •  Shamanic and Priestly Origins of Massage    13
  •  Massage in the Ancient World Babylonia Egypt China and India    27
  • Massage in the Ancient World Greece and Rome    43
  • Keeping the Faith Massage from the Fall of the Roman Empire to the Nineteenth Century    63
  • Nineteenthcentury Massage in Gymnastics and Movement Therapy    81
  • First Steps to Credibility Massage in Nineteenth century Medicine    99
  • Massage in Nineteenthcentury Alternative Therapeutic and Restorative Cultures    131
  • Massage Tools and Mediums    149
  • The Evolution of Massage Technique    177
  • The Golden Age of Massage    199
  • The Future of Massage in the New Millennium    227
  •  Endnotes    235
  •  Bibliography 251
  • INDEX 259
Title The History of Massage: An Illustrated Survey from Around the World
Author Robert Noah Calvert
Edition illustrated
Publisher Inner Traditions / Bear & Co, 2002
ISBN 0892818816, 9780892818815
Length 268 pages

Read an Excerpt

Pages xiv & xv

Massage was not advocated nor practiced as a singular therapeutic tool until modern times. The shaman rubbing evil spirits out of the body, the deaconess laying on her hands to inspire the healing power of the Holy Spirit, the midwife soothing a mother from the pains of childbirth, the trainer preparing for and administering after athletic pursuits, the nurse administering a healing balm in battle or the bath, the doctor treating an injury with a liniment or mechanical treatment, the woman applying healing and soothing creams to her skin for beauty and health, a couple rubbing as a part of the rituals of sexual behavior, and any person touching another simply for feeling good and getting relaxed?massage was a part of the repertoire of each of these activities before it broke free in the nineteenth century. It remains a complement to them all even though it is now recognized as a stand-alone therapeutic tool.

The commingling of massage with a broad range of human activities makes writing about its history challenging and sometimes a bit confusing. But this is its past, a legacy primarily based on association with better known aspects of human life. In each of these massage has found a place?sometimes thriving, sometimes faltering, but always surviving. Massage has survived because it is the most fundamental means of giving care, affection, and aid between human beings. Its healing qualities differ from those of other healing modalities because massage confers its benefits through the character and healing intention of those who give and receive it. The true value of massage comes from the inherent need of humans to have contact with one another.

Pages 40 & 41
Numerous authors claim that ancient Indian writings found in the medicine of India, called ayurveda, used the word shampooing (from the Sanskrit tshampua) to denote massage. Greek historians who visited India three hundred years before the birth of Christ brought back glowing accounts of the art of shampooing. Among the Brahmins there is an order of physicians who rely chiefly upon diet and regimen . . . [and] hygenic shampooing.”37 Shampooing was a part of India’s indigenous medicine when Alexander the Great passed through India in 327 B.C.E. His soldiers have been given credit for bringing the techniques to the Mediterranean region, where later it would become a part of Greek, Roman, and Turkish practices. Shampooing as practiced by the people of India can still be found today in Turkish bath houses around the world. That shampooing has a lineage over two thousand years old is confirmed by the similarity of the descriptions of shampooing found in ancient writings of the Arabs and Romans and that given by George H. Taylor, M.D., a late nineteenth century physician who advocated exercise for health. In his book, Health by Exercise, he describes the practice as experienced by English residents living in India during his time:

“The English who reside in India frequently give accounts of the shampooing and friction, which they find a great source of delight as well as of health. The person receiving the operation is extended on a seat, while the operator manipulates his members, as he would knead dough for bread. He then strikes him lightly with the side of the hand, applies perfume and friction, and terminates by cracking the joints of the fingers, toes, and neck. After this operation, the subject experiences a sensation of ineffable happiness and energy. It is said that the Indian ladies seldom pass a day without being thus shampooed by their slaves.”38

Although in more modern times shampooing implies a full-body cleaning usually done with a brush and the hands, this account leaves little doubt about the claim that Indian shampooing is massage. French scholars and historians used the term barber-masseur to describe the manual practices of India they discovered during their travels there in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Wrestling was and is popular in India. Massage has been a traditional healing modality used in wrestling since ancient times, in conjunction with exercise and breath work. Harish Johari, in his book Ayurvedic Massage (1996), asserts that “In ancient times Ayurvedic clinics did not regularly offer massage, as everybody gave and received massage.” When people did need massage they would be referred to a specialist in the tactile arts, who used oils and techniques passed down through the centuries. “Often these massage practitioners were wrestlers,” says Harish Johari. He continues: “Today in India massage practitioners with this training roam public places in great numbers and give head and body massages for a few rupees.”39 Many of these practitioners work in the city parks, and some are Ayurvedic doctors as well.

Minnie Goodnow provides the following quote regarding a medical school that was also a public hospital operating in India about 225 B.C.E.: “The nurse must be clever, devoted to the patient, and pure in body and mind; must know how to compound drugs, be competent to cook food, skilled in bathing the patients, conversant with rubbing the limbs and massage, with lifting the patient, well skilled in making and cleaning of beds, ready, patient and skilful.”40

As we browse through the Asian continent for evidence of massage it becomes evident how the movement of manual therapies moved across the continent like a camel caravan spreading commerce with its heavy load of goods. Even without conscious effort to record the massage practices of countries, its practice is visible to us through the stories of travelers, scholars, and historians. From inferences drawn by the examination of the most ancient records made on bone, shell, and stone, kept alive through verbal traditions and finally to the venerable writings of Sanskrit scholars and historians, the evidence for massage in world cultures unfolds before us in wonderful form.

Top Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars  – Fascinating coverage of the evolution of massage techniques
on November 7, 2002
Robert Noah Calvert’s History Of Massage is an informative and illustrated history covers massage techniques and rituals from around the world through the ages, from its ongoing medical use as a therapy and curative to the varying techniques for addressing different illnesses and needs. A fascinating coverage of the evolution of massage techniques.
2.0 out of 5 stars  – Great resource for those interested, but much speculation.
on December 8, 2016
Really the only book of its kind so in that sense it’s an great resource for learning the background of the profession of massage. Unfortunately, there is obviously a lot of speculation, without the disclaimer that the author is purely speculating, about the ancient history of massage. He draws from ancient sources and then extrapolates to assume that massage was practiced in a certain way, without any sources or proof to support his claim. If you’re at all interested in learning the history of massage I highly recommend you reading this, however, his writing style leaves much to be desire in my opinion. It was difficult to stay engaged despite my interest in the subject.
5.0 out of 5 stars — Amazing book
on October 27, 2015

This book is truly amazing, very in depth. Not boring for a history book. A great book if you are working on your national MBLEX. 5 percent of the test is on history. Could be the difference between passing or failing. I highly recommend this book.
5.0 out of 5 stars – an amazing book.
on May 15, 2016
About a quarter eay through this book, supplementing my massage schooling with this history book, an amazing book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s