- 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
- © Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004.