Veni, Vidi, Veggie - Roman
Gladiators Were Vegetarian

By Tom Leonard
Media Editor
The Telegraph - UK

Roman gladiators were overweight vegetarians who lived on barley and beans, according to a scientific study of the largest gladiator graveyard discovered. Fantasy Golf
Analysis of the bones of more than 70 gladiators recently found near Ephesus, the Roman capital of Asia Minor, puts paid to traditional Hollywood images of macho carnivores with the physique of boxers.
The dietary findings of the scientists from the University of Vienna are detailed in a forthcoming documentary on Channel Five. They may give vegetarians a new, harder image.
But the vegetarian stereotype is shattered by the finding that gladiators did not wear sandals but fought in bare feet.
The mass autopsy at the graveyard site on the western coast of Turkey has challenged assumptions that gladiator training was almost as brutal as the contests.
Ancient Roman mosaics depict gladiators as stocky, heavy men but historians have tended to assume this was a tribute to their macho image rather than a literal depiction of their size.
Meanwhile, experts have been puzzled by contemporary references to gladiators as "barley crunchers".
Karl Grossschmidt, a forensic anthropologist at Vienna University, used chemical testing on the bones to reveal that gladiators stuck to a diet of barley and beans to bulk out.
It was a boring diet, he admitted. "They got enough of this food every day to make them very fat and strong," he said. He concluded that they devised the diet primarily to protect themselves from slashing wounds and damage to nerves and blood vessels, with the layer of fat supplementing their scant armour.
Dr Grossschmidt noticed from the bone analysis that, contrary to the normal effects of intensive training, the gladiators put on weight before a fight rather than lost it.
Bone samples were subjected to chemical analysis. While a normal meat and vegetable diet will show balanced levels of zinc and strontium, the gladiators' bones were very high in strontium and low in zinc - another indication of vegetarianism.
The density of the bone tissue was significantly higher than normal, exactly what one finds in modern athletes, he said. The bone enlargement was particularly pronounced in the feet - evidence that gladiators fought barefoot in the slippery arena sand. Historians have long argued over which gesture meant mercy and which meant death.
Dr Grossschmidt discovered a series of scratches etched on to the spines of fallen gladiators.
He believes they signified attempts to stab them in the heart via the throat.
This, he concluded, is evidence that the thumbs down was indeed a fatal instruction - to thrust the sword down through the throat and into the heart.
The True Gladiators: Revealed can be seen on Five on March 10.
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004.



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