October 12-13, 2019 | Secaucus, NJ | Meadowlands Exposition Center

A Brief History of Fishkeeping for Hobbyists: Exploring Ancient Roots


Keeping beautiful underwater aquatic creatures within our domestic environmental settings stems from a rich tradition rooted in ancient history. With archeological evidence dating back to the Sumerians and Babylonians in 2500 BC and 500 BC, it’s amazing to think that people have been enjoying observing the diverse awe and wonder of fish throughout the ages.


In order to understand contemporary fishkeeping for hobbyists, we thought it would be fun to explore the historical and pleasurable connection humans have shared with fish throughout the course of time.


Ancient History

The Sumerians, Babylonians, and ancient Egyptians are all known to have kept fish in artificial ponds. Specific to the Egyptians, the reasoning behind the beginning of fishkeeping was a form of worship.


iStock_000035657510SmallAround approximately 1000 BC, the Chinese were known for establishing a practice of keeping and selectively breeding carp for decorative purposes.


Another ancient culture with record of fishkeeping was the Romans. However, unlike the Chinese, the Romans used fish for both food and entertainment. The Roman fishkeeping practice entailed harnessing seawater from the ocean to maintain saltwater fish like lamphreys and mullets.


Middle Ages

The practice of keeping fish maintained through the middle ages and in Medieval Europe (around 300 AD) was distinguished by the development of necessary technology that informs much of modern practice. Through many failed attempts to keep fish indoors in bowls and tanks, it was not understood at the time that circulation was key in order to oxygenate water and thus keep fish healthy.


Up With The Times
It wasn’t until the early 1800s that it was understood that special equipment was necessary to create the appropriate fish-friendly environment for many different species to thrive in home aquarium practices. A man named Robert Warrington is credited with the breakthrough discovery in the year 1805 that water needed to circulate and cycle. This marked the beginning of sustainable fish tanks!


Building on Warrington’s development and momentum, in 1853 the City of London opened the first public aquarium, the Public Aquaria at the Zoological Gardens in Regent’s Park. This marked occasion introduced the general public to underwater creatures and their habitats and stirred up much interest in the field of fishkeeping. Following suit, numerous other public aquariums opened showcasing the life aquatic. Two notable cities that impacted the fishkeeping field heavily were Berlin and New York.


With the rapid development of the increasingly industrialized world, fishkeeping and its practices spread quickly to interested parties and the hobby we know today was born.


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