What did Gladiators Eat?

What did Gladiators Eat? 

The ancient Roman gladiators have been a source of fascination for thousands of years. And as modern day archeologists and historians uncover more about their lives, our hunger to find out more about the Roman gladiator seems to increase.

So you want to know what gladiators ate? Research by Karl Grossschmidt, a paleo-pathologist at the Medical University of Vienna has managed to give an insite into this unglamopurside to the gladiators life!

Contemporary accounts of gladiator life sometimes refered to the ancient wariors as Hordearii - literally meaning 'Barley Men'. To find out more, Grossschmidt and collaborator Fabian Kanz subjected bits of bone uncovered at the gladiator graveyard in Ephesus - in what is now western Turkey- to isotopic analysis. This is a technique that measures trace chemical elements such as calcium, strontium, and zinc. The biggest revelation to come out of the Ephesus cemetery is what kept the gladiators alive - a vegetarian diet rich in carbohydrates, with the occasional calcium supplement.

They also managed to turn up some other surprising results. Compared to the average inhabitant of Ephesus, gladiators ate more plants and very little animal protein. The vegetarian diet had nothing to do with poverty or animal rights. Gladiators, it seems, were fat. Consuming a lot of simple carbohydrates, such as barley, and legumes, like beans, was designed for survival in the arena. Packing in the carbs also packed on the pounds.

"Gladiators needed subcutaneous fat," Grossschmidt explains. "A fat cushion protects you from cut wounds and shields nerves and blood vessels in a fight. Not only would a lean gladiator have been dead meat, he would have made for a bad show. Surface wounds look more spectacular," says Grossschmidt. "If I get wounded but just in the fatty layer, I can fight on," he adds. "It doesn't hurt much, and it looks great for the spectators."

But a diet of barley and vegetables would have left the fighters with a serious calcium deficit. To keep their bones strong, historical accounts say, they downed vile brews of charred wood or bone ash, both of which are rich in calcium. Whatever the exact formula, the stuff worked. Grossschmidt says that the calcium levels in the gladiator bones were "exorbitant" compared to the general population. "Many athletes today have to take calcium supplements," he says. "They knew that then, too."