Proteins & Laughs

The Gladiator – 2000 directed By Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe

Meat? Proteins?

The typical diet of gladiators consisted in legumes, barley and a particular “supplement” to recover strength.

Gladiators are real myth of ancient Roma, symbol of strength and masculinity, what did they eat? Contrary to what one may think, their diet was mostly plant-based rich in cereals and legumes.

In 1993 during a study by the department of Forensic Medicine at the MedUni of Vienna, in cooperation with the Anthropology department of the institution of Forensic Medicine of University of Berna, remains from a cemetery were analyzed. The bones belonged to 53 individuals lived (and died) between the second and the hird century A.D., when Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia and counted more than 200.000 inhabitants.
The results have confirmed that gladiators had a predominantly vegetarian diet.

Hordearii – The barly eaters

The historical texts tell us about a specific diet called gladiatorian saginam for the gladiators which included barley and beans, infact it was named Hordearii (barley eaters).

The analysis showed that people ate cereals such as barley, spelt, millet and legumes.
What surprised the most, is the fact that in the bones of gladiators there were the low nitrogen values, that according to the researchers indicates the consumption of few animal proteins like meat, fish and milk products.
In fact, the consumption of products of animal origin in large quantities is a modern history, animals were utilized for farm works. Only those who dedicated themselves to farming or hunting had the possibility of eating meat more often. There was also the need to eat meat in a short time as there was no possibility of preserving foods.

Moreover the gladiators used a revitalizing and energetic drink based on ash of medicinal plants. The infusions of greek hay were the most used. This drink cited by Pliny the Elder, was used to reinforce the body after exercise and to promote better recovering after the combat.

According to the researchers, these ashes dissolved in water also provided other minerals such as calcium, magnesium in particular zinc, of which the diet of gladiators was poor.
In conclusion, this study published on PlosOne indicates the concrete possibility that the diet of the gladiators was mostly vegan.

Pollice verso (1872), painting by Jean – Leon Gerome

The gladiators were vegetarian

The typical muscular gladiator like Russel Crowe in the famous film of Ridley Scott in 2000 is obsolete, according to the results of a research conducted by a group of medical anthropologist of the Medical University of Vienna on a tomb of Ephesus (in Turkey) about 2000 years ago from which it emerged that the gladiators were mostly vegan.
Far from being muscular Adoni, the gladiator were mostly “omini de sostanza”, which translated into Italian means that they had a bit fat. So they gained the energy to fight for hours and hours mostly from legumes and cereals: the wheat was introduced in Europe only many centuries later and the food that best suited their job were barley and beans.

Meat was almost absent from the gladiators’ diets not so much because of the conditions of poverty in which they lived, but because it was more effective, in order to win the battles, have a softer layer of fat like armor rather than the enviable abdominal: the fat on the belly softens the blows, the nerves were less exposed and the wounds were less deep.

Gladiators and the strange vegetarian supplement to regain strength

Because gladiators were depicted as muscular, slender and physically attractive men, it is common to say: Photoshop was used even in ancient Rome …. Or rather the beauty of the subject was idealized to make it a perfect body, whether it was a gladiator or a philosopher. To recover their strength and regain their energy after a fight, the gladiators used to take a kind of ash supplement, rich in strontium and calcium, obtained from plants: a tonic that could make them forget the labors of arena battles comparable – very remotely – to the calcium and magnesium pills we take to combat fatigue.

“Gladiators in the circus, mosaic of the imperial age, Galleria Borghese, Rome

A body fit for the fight

A frugal diet was not the consequence of the social condition of gladiators, very often (though not always) prisoners or slaves, but rather of a precise will.
Gladiatorial schools were a source of income and employment of great proportions during antiquity, they cloud be compared almost to today’s football teams. A winning fighter was a valuable asset, not to be neglected.
A diet so rich in carbohydrates covered the muscles with a layer of fat, and in fact Galen defines the gladiators as “soggy”.
The fat, although today considered unesthetic, played an important role during the battles, because it partially protected the organs and muscles of the fighter. Wounds and superficial cuts were less debilitating than those with a sculpted physique, and a heavy body mass was an additional weapon that could be decisive in the arena.
A mighty and massive gladiator, when wounded, gushed blood at will, maintaining unchanged his ability to fight.

The blood of gladiators, at the time of the Romans, was considered a remedy for impotence (a kind of Viagra of antiquity), and “gladius”, as well as indicating the sword, was a vulgar term for defining the penis. It is easy to imagine the madness of the people in the arenas for mighty gladiators dripping blood still capable of reversing the outcome of the battle.

Harvard professor Kathleen Coleman, who was not involved in the research team at the University of Vienna, agrees that the gladiator diet could be carefully decided and not the result of the sole desire to save money.
Since everyone wanted the best fight possible, she states: “I assume they knew the link between diet and performance well [and] they certainly wanted to fatten gladiators”.
Also, although a little overweight (certainly not fat), gladiators were far from being in a poor shape.

Studies showed that the bones of gladiators were as dense as those of today’s athletes, and that their muscles were well developed evenly between arms and legs. The gladiators then spent their time training and eating, so that become giants able to fight for a long time to the death against each other.

Gladiators fighting

Gladiators as Sex Symbols

Giovanale, who in an epic poem makes a senator’s wife run away with a gladiator, tells us this. Or in the graffiti of Pompeii, where one reads of “Crescentius, the one who at night hoards young women”, or of “Caladus the Thracian, three times winner and three times crowned, idol of young girls”.

The business linked to the Gladiators was enormous, and can be found in the number and grandeur of the gladiatorial schools, whose most famous was the “Ludus Magnus”, connected to the Colosseum by an underground tunnel, but also in the schools of Pompeii, Capua and Ravenna, the three most prestigious with the one in Rome.

Gladiators were often prisoners of war, but they could also be free men, who voluntarily chose to join a prison with different comforts.
They lived in structures organized with doctors, heating, baths, a cemetery and several other types of comfort, a series of luxuries uncomparable to the death for osteoarthritis that afflicted the most miserable social classes of the Empire.
The probability of dying was very high, moreover in a violent way as gutted by an animal during the “Venetiones” or killed by another gladiator, but the dream of glory and high remuneration attracted men like bees to honey. Rather than the athletic Massimo, played by Russel Crowe in the movie “The Gladiator”, the Roman wrestlers had to resemble his opponent, a Gaul of impressive size.

The Ludus Magnus in Rome with, in background, the Colosseum, a fountain, source Wikipedia

Proteins & Laughs

Let’s go back to our statement at the beginning.
Laughs at what ?
Laughs at the current obsession to proteneized at all costs the food and therefore the whole nutrition. We saw that Roman gladiators ate very little protein, especially animal proteins, but they were able to sustain fights with very high stakes for hours and hours with all the energy in their bodies.
So what? This exasperated search for a super–proteneized diet is the result of the umpteenth fashion, far from real and well founded nutritional needs. But this is another story… and we will tell you about it soon.

La tua iscrizione non può essere convalidata.
La tua iscrizione è avvenuta correttamente.
Iscriviti alla Newsletter e ricevi gratuitamente il nostro catalogo.

Per contattarci

Via Stura 24 – 10098 Rivoli (TO) – Italy
Tel +39 0119575805 | +39 0114440801

Cookies & Privacy Policy

2024 | Biobontà