Anthropologists shed light on gladiators’ diet

Anthropologists shed light on gladiators’ diet
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

New research in the journal PloS ONE has revealed some surprising details about the Roman gladiators’ eating habits. Rather than eating meat to bulk up for matches, the gladiators’ diet was primarily a vegetarian one, including mostly beans and grains. In fact, gladiators are referred to in contemporary reports as “hordearii,” a.k.a. “barley eaters.”

Researchers at the MedUni Vienna’s Department of Forensic Medicine and the University of Bern’s anthropology department studied bones from excavations in the ancient Ephesos — capital of the Roman province of Asia, in what is now Turkey — to reach their conclusions. The bones the researchers studied were excavated in 1993 and date to the second or third century B.C.E.

The plant-heavy aspect isn’t the only surprise, though — gladiators apparently drank ashes after their physical training as a “build-up drink,” according to The gladiators’ bones had “highly significant” amounts of strontium, leading the researchers to conclude the gladiators drank plant ashes. The researchers are now launching a new project to study gladiators’ migration to Ephesos from other parts of the Roman empire, using the bones as a starting point.

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