Sunday, April 22, 2007
Gladiators Were Fat Vegetarians
I Hope They At Least Got Some Wine-- (D.R.)
Roman gladiators were overweight vegetarians and not the muscle-bound men protrayed by actors like Russell Crowe, anthropologists say.
Austrian scientists analysed the skeletons of two different types of gladiators, the myrmillos and retiariae, found at the ancient site of Ephesus, near Selsuk in Turkey.
"Tests performed on bits of bone taken from the skeletons of some 70 gladiators buried at Ephesus seem to prove that they ate mainly barley, beans and dried fruit," said Dr Karl Grossschmidt, who took part in the study by the Austrian Archaeological Institute
"This diet, which has been mentioned in the oral history, is rather sad but it gave the gladiators a lot of strength even if it made them fat," said Grossschmidt who is a member of the University of Vienna's Institute of Histology and Embryology.
The Austrian palaeoanthropologists relied on a method known as elementary microanalysis that allows scientists to determine what a human being ate during his or her lifetime.
With the help of a sonar, they could establish the chemical concentrations inside cells in the bone samples taken from the skeletons at Ephesus.
From this, they could deduce how much meat, fish, grains and fruit made up the diet of the Roman fighting machines.
A balanced diet of meat and vegetables leaves equal amounts of zinc and strontium in the cells, while a mainly vegetarian diet would leave high levels of strontium and little zinc, Grossschmidt said.
Fabian Kanz, from the university's department of analytical chemistry, said the gladiators' bone density gave us clues to how they lived.
"The bone density here was higher than usual, as is the case with modern athletes," he said.
This line of testing allowed the scientists to debunk another myth, that gladiators wore strappy Sparticus sandals in the arena.
"The bone density is particularly high in samples taken from the feet, which would suggest that the gladiators fought with their bare feet in sand," Kanz said.
He believed that because some gladiators fought with little more than their bare hands, they could have "cultivated layers of fat to protect their vital organs from the cutting blows of their opponents".
A gladiator's life
In ancient Rome, the classical battle of gladiators usually pitted a myrmillo armed with a sword, a helmet and a round shield, against the lightly armed retiarius who carried only a net and a dagger, or a samnite who wore a visor and a leather sheath protecting his right arm.
They were mostly slaves who volunteered to fight because sometimes the victor would be freed as a reward, or poor Romans who fought for pay.
The Austrian scientists are still carrying out further tests, but if their initial findings are confirmed it would change the glamorous image of the men immortalised in Spartacus, the 1960 movie starring a young Kirk Douglas, and the more recent Gladiator with Crowe in the main role.
"It seems that the gladiators tried to put on some weight before their battles," Kanz said.
"But this does not mean that they did not work hard to lose it again once they stepped out of the ring," he added.
The archeological site of Ephesus is one of the most important in Turkey.
The Greeks founded the city but it was the Romans who made it the capital of their Asian province and turned it into one of the wealthiest cities of their empire.
--Robert Koch Agence France-Presse 5 April 2004