Almost like modern athletes, Roman gladiators were subjected to strict training regimes and hours of physically exhausting tasks, but instead of eating a diet rich in protein their consumed mainly barley and beans.
The surprising discovery was made by Austrian forensic anthropologists – Dr Fabian Kanz and Professor Karl Grossschmidt during a five years study at a mass Gladiator grave in Ephesus, Turkey. The grave contained the intermingled bones of 68 corpses – nearly all young men under 30 except the remains of Euxenius, (a retired Gladiator-turned-trainer) who most probably had been in his fifties at the moment of his death. The method used was isotopic analysis – a technique that measures trace chemical elements such as calcium, strontium, and zinc.
Gladiators were allowed to feast only on the night before a fight. This rather bland and pulpy diet and reduced salivation associated with physical stress may have contributed to high rates of tooth decay. On the other side, consuming a lot of simple carbohydrates, such as barley, and legumes, like beans, was designed for survival in the arena. On short, the gladiators were fat, but on purpose. The fat cushion protected them from cut wounds and shields nerves and blood vessels in fights. It also helped them display a more spectacular show as if they were wounded just in the fatty layer they could continue the fight while it look great for the spectators.
Because a diet of barley and vegetables would have left the fighters with a serious calcium deficit they often consumed a special drink made from vinegar mixed with plant ash, which helped to fortify the body and promote bone healing after injuries. The exact formula of their drink isn’t known, but according to researchers the calcium levels in the gladiator bones were “exorbitant” compared to the general population.
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