Austrian and Swiss scientists have found that Roman gladiators were mostly vegetarians
A team of Austrian and Swiss scientists found that the Roman gladiators who fought relentlessly with animals and each other to entertain the plebs were mostly vegetarians. This rather surprising finding is the result of an analysis of bones found in cemeteries in Asia Minor where slain fighters were buried in the arena. The study was conducted by academics from the Vienna School of Medicine and the University of Bern.
They analyzed bones from the tombs of 22 gladiators buried about 1800 years ago in the Roman city of Ephesus (in present-day Turkey) and found that their menu consisted mostly of grains and legumes and that there was almost no meat on it. However, they also enjoyed special drinks made from ash – mostly poplar, which has a favorable ratio of strontium to calcium.
“Plant ash dissolved in water was obviously drunk to restore vitality after strenuous physical exertion, as well as to speed up the healing of damaged bones,” said Professor Fabian Kanz from the Department of Forensic Medicine at the Vienna School of Medicine. He compares this unusual dietary supplement to today’s intake of “magnesium and calcium in the form of effervescent tablets” after major physical exertion.
The analysis of the bones revealed that the gladiators ate mainly wheat, beans and barley – hence the occasional designation of gladiators as “barley men” or “men of barley”. There was almost no meat in their diet, even though they fought fiercely for their lives in front of a crowd of hundreds or thousands.
However, scientists have also discovered some different dietary patterns in the bones studied, which testify to a much higher consumption of animal protein and a lower appetite for cereals and legumes. This peculiarity is probably due to the fact that gladiators came from different parts of the Roman Empire, where people of course ate different foods. Therefore, in the continuation of their analysis of the bones found, Austrian and Swiss scientists will focus on the question of where all the Roman gladiators were brought from – or came from voluntarily.
Researchers claim that prisoners of war, slaves and convicted criminals did predominate among them; but a few also volunteered for special training, which was the usual introduction to the spectacular life and death battles – certainly a kind of “adrenaline sport” of the time. For every gladiator had a 1: 9 chance in every fight that he would not return from it alive.