Roman Gladiators' Diet May Surprise You
Fighters were vegetarians, drank ashes after training as a tonic
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 20, 2014 4:10 PM CDT
Updated Oct 25, 2014 7:02 AM CDT

(Newser) – You'd figure a typical Roman gladiator to be a real meat-and-potatoes guy, right? You'd be figuring wrong—at least if you were talking about gladiators from the city of Ephesus. Anthropologists have found that bones uncovered from a gladiator graveyard in the ancient city (once the capital of the Roman province of Asia, in what's now Turkey) reveal a mainly beans-and-grain diet, with nary a giant chicken leg to be found, reports. The warriors also indulged in an interesting beverage: a drink made of plant ashes that was supposed to "fortify the body after physical exertion and … promote better bone healing," according to the lead writer of the study published in PLoS One.

Scientists used spectroscopy to measure the carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur levels in the gladiators' bones, as well as the ratio of strontium (a chemical element that's found in ash) to calcium. Their diet was apparently not so different from that of the general population, the researchers say, but reports at the time referred to gladiators as "hordearii," or "barley eaters," possibly meaning that they ate lower-quality grain than other people. And as for the ash tonic? "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," the study leader notes. (See how tough the rest of the gladiators' daily life was.)