Roman gladiators drank an energy drink of vinegar and ash, according to an anthropological investigation of arena fighter bones.
The study by the Department of Forensic Medicine at the MedUni Vienna in cooperation with the Department of Anthropology at the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Bern, examined bones from a 2nd century gladiator graveyard uncovered in 1993 in the ancient Roman city of Ephesos, Turkey. At that time, Ephesos was the capital of the Roman province of Asia and had over 200,000 inhabitants.
Gladiator Chews Out Ref From Grave
It emerged that the diet of the arena fighters was quite different from the high-protein intake of modern athletes. Indeed, the typical food eaten by gladiators was wheat, barley and beans.
"Contemporary Roman texts mention that gladiators consumed a specific diet called ‘gladiatoriam saginam', which included barley and bell beans. Their consumption of barley led to the derogatory nickname ‘hordearii' (barley eaters)," Fabian Kanz, from the Department of Forensic Medicine at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria, and colleagues wrote in the journal PLoS One.
Kanz's team analyzed the skeletal remains of 53 individuals, including 22 gladiators from about 1,800 years ago.
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Using spectroscopy, the researchers measured the carbon, nitrogen and sulfur in the collagen of the bones, as well as the ratio of strontium (a chemical element that's found in ash) to calcium.
The tests revealed that all individuals - gladiators and non gladiators - mostly ate a vegetarian diet, primarily consisting of grain and meat-free meals, with little sign of dairy products as well.
However, the researchers found a significant difference between gladiators and the normal population.
Headless Gladiators Had Exotic Origins
The amount of strontium measured in the gladiators' bones revealed the arena fighters had a higher intake of minerals from a strontium-rich source of calcium, meaning the plant ash drink mentioned in ancient texts probably did exist.
"This ash beverage was served after fights and maybe also after training to remedy body pain," the researchers wrote.
"Things were similar then to what we do today - we take magnesium and calcium (in the form of effervescent tablets, for example) following physical exertion," Fabian Kanz said.
Image: Photo of the 19th-Century painting, "Pollice Verso (Thumbs Down)" by Jean-Léon Gérôme. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/phxart.org