Pass the Caesar Salad, Please… (ca. 264 BC – 440 AD)

By: The Scribe on Thursday, June 7, 2007

Gladiator diets

Previously here at the Ancient Standard, we brought you a story about a gladiator graveyard recently discovered at the site of the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey. Now, it appears that forensic analysis of 70 gladiator skeletons has revealed some startling news about gladiator lifestyles – or rather, what they ate during their lives as gladiators.

Instead of conforming to the modern media image of gladiators as muscle-bound Playboys, gladiators in ancient Rome were actually overweight vegetarians – strong and muscular, yes, but with more than a little extra pudge around the middle. Using a method known as elementary microanalysis, palaeoanthropologists were able to determine that ancient gladiators lived off a diet that consisted mainly of barley, beans, and dried fruit.

A simple diet such as this, while increasing bone density and actually allowing the gladiators to become much stronger than normal, would result in a zinc deficiency, causing an imbalance in the gladiator’s internal chemistry. There would be too much of a natural chemical called strontium built up in the body, which would result in the gladiator becoming – rather literally – fat.

Why was this beneficial? Primarily, these layers of fat would have helped to protect their vital organs against piercing blows from opponents. It may have also helped them to heal much more quickly after being injured. Considering that most gladiators only survived for an average of three years in the ring, it was likely the case that gladiators “beefed up” during the fighting seasons and training, and then lost the weight soon after retirement (if they survived that long).

So, as much as Hollywood would like everyone to believe that gladiators were poster boys for fitness, the truth of the matter is that even though they were incredibly strong and relatively attractive men – in fact, unattractive men weren’t even considered for gladiatorial training – they were actually relatively overweight, moreso resembling lightweight sumo wrestlers than Russell Crowe’s movie-gladiator Maximus.

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: 380 Million year old tree…


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