Diet Secrets of the Gladiators
Imagine a group of gladiators eating dinner. What do you see? Your brain probably conjures up images of men with big knives sitting around a large wooden table. Dinner is a pig on a spit roasting over an open fire and legs of lamb, still on the bone. After all, if common dietary knowledge is to be believed, protein is what these muscle-bound warriors needed in their diets.
Keeping this image in mind, if you were to give gladiators a nickname related to their diet, what would you choose? “Hog-swallowers” or something similar? Yet researchers are discovering something radically different. Studies conducted on the bones found at a mass gladiator grave in Ephesus (modern day Turkey) offer us several clues about the diets gladiators followed. Instead of the stereotypical, meat-rich diet we envision, gladiators actually ate an almost completely vegetarian diet.
Contemporary reports referred to gladiators as “hordearii,” which means “barley eaters” in Latin. Archaeologists understand this name to be a reference to the gladiator diet, which was built around barley and beans (their main protein source). Is it possible that the gladiators knew the power diet has on the body? A vegetarian diet is a great way to increase performance and ensure good physical health. After all, men with such occupation would certainly want to perform their very best. Perhaps the gladiators also believed the maxim, “You are what you eat,” and preferred not to end up hewn into pieces of meat.
You may be thinking that gladiators were simply given cheap food since they were going to die anyway, but this is unlikely. Although it was bloody, gladiator combat resulted in fewer deaths than Hollywood would have you believe. Gladiators were actually highly trained athletes who made their living fighting. Fights to the death would have been a poor business decisions for those who owned the gladiators and paid for their training. Of course, some battles were fought to the death, but this was less common. Some of the skeletons found in the Ephesus site, “Showed evidence of healed wounds, suggesting that gladiators received medical treatment, and one (skeleton) seemed to belong to a retired fighter”