Gladiators

New evidence suggests Gladiators consumed plant ash for bone strength

(Read the article on one page)

A new study published in the journal PLOS ONE has revealed evidence that gladiators drank a beverage made from plant ash, vinegar, and water that was rich in calcium, essential for enhancing bone strength.  The discovery provides biological evidence to support information in ancient texts that gladiators drank an ash-based drink for recovery.

Researchers analysed the battle-scarred remains of 22 gladiators found in a mass burial pit near an ancient gladiator cemetery between the Temple of Artemis and the city of Ephesus, Turkey dating to the 2 nd and 3 rd century AD, and compared them to the remains of 31 citizens from the same era and region.

In situ gladiator tombstone excavated in the cemetery in Ephesus

In situ gladiator tombstone excavated in the cemetery in Ephesus. ( PLOS ONE )

Using carbon, nitrogen, and sulphur isotope analysis (plants and animals contain different ratios of these isotopes), the scientists were able to determine that there were no significant differences between the diets of gladiators and the general population.  Both groups appear to have had a mostly vegetarian diet that was high in nitrogen-fixing plants, such as lentils, barley, and beans. This supports descriptions of gladiator diets in ancient texts. Roman historians sometimes called gladiators hordearii ("barley eaters"), while ancient texts by Roman scholars Pliny, Galen and Tacitus describe a gladiator diet of barley and bell beans.

It was when the research team decided to test the ratio of the elements strontium and calcium in the bones that the huge difference between the two groups jumped out. The gladiators had almost twice the ratio of strontium to calcium in their bones, as did other populations.

Study lead Fabian Kanz, a forensic anthropologist at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria, explained that strontium is readily taken up from the soil by plants, but is removed from the body by humans or animals that eat those plants. A strontium atom will occasionally replace a calcium atom in the bones, so plant eaters will have higher levels of strontium, Kanz added.

However, the fact that there were no significant differences in diet between the gladiators and the general population, suggests that the gladiators were getting this nutrient boost from elsewhere.

Ave Caesar Morituri te Salutant

Ave Caesar Morituri te Salutant by Jean-Leon Gerome (1859). ( Wikipedia)

Gladiator recovery drink

"This is strong evidence that the gladiators were consuming something high in calcium to replenish their calcium stores that other people weren't and that didn't show up in the isotopes," says Kristina Killgrove, a biological anthropologist at the University of West Florida who studies imperial Rome through ancient bones.

"Plant ashes were evidently consumed to fortify the body after physical exertion, and to promote better bone healing," said Kanz. "Things were similar then to what we do today."

In his Naturalis Historia, published in the first century, Pliny the Elder wrote: "Your hearth should be your medicine chest. Drink lye made from its ashes, and you will be cured." One can see how gladiators after a combat are helped by drinking this.

According to Kanz, consuming plant ash could have provided the extra heaping of strontium identified in the gladiator bones, however, they cannot yet rule out other possibilities. For example, dairy doesn’t show up in isotopes, so gladiators could have been consuming more cheese and yoghurt than the rest of the population.

Featured image: Pollice Verso by Jean-Leon Gerome (1872). ( Wikipedia)

By April Holloway

Comments

We can get better nutritious supplements from vegetable and plant foods; most probably protein, vitamin, minerals and many other substances are getting from plants. Therefore the importance of plant is really essential for human being. Here also we have found some good examples that how Gladiators are survive in ancient days with plant foods and especially they are consuming plants to strengthen their bones. Plants are the health booster for them in ancient times and they used plant ahs for bone strength.

angieblackmon's picture

so is plant ash made from burning plants? i'm very curious about this. i wonder if it could have any health benefits now...?

love, light and blessings

AB

There's a typo. The closing quote is supposed to be after "cured."

It's fascinating that gladiators were apparently vegetarians. In current times that's consider a wussy diet by many.

rbflooringinstall's picture

Interesting. A gladiator smoothie.

Peace and Love,

Ricky.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Male and female cones on the Wollemi pine
A popular idea in science fiction is the resurrection of prehistoric creatures such as dinosaurs, mammoths, and even Neanderthals. In reality, such a resurrection of a prehistoric creature has yet to be achieved, although there is currently an attempt to create a hybrid mammoth-elephant embryo by a Harvard team.

Myths & Legends

Male and female cones on the Wollemi pine
A popular idea in science fiction is the resurrection of prehistoric creatures such as dinosaurs, mammoths, and even Neanderthals. In reality, such a resurrection of a prehistoric creature has yet to be achieved, although there is currently an attempt to create a hybrid mammoth-elephant embryo by a Harvard team.

Human Origins

Noah's Sacrifice - watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot
The imperfect state of archaeological researches in the Near East impedes any definite identification of the original race or races that created the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. According to Gordon Childe, however, the predominant racial element in the earliest graves in the region from Elam to the Danube is the ‘Mediterranean’.

Ancient Places

Male and female cones on the Wollemi pine
A popular idea in science fiction is the resurrection of prehistoric creatures such as dinosaurs, mammoths, and even Neanderthals. In reality, such a resurrection of a prehistoric creature has yet to be achieved, although there is currently an attempt to create a hybrid mammoth-elephant embryo by a Harvard team.

Opinion

The ancient and mysterious Sphinx, Giza, Egypt.
In 1995, NBC televised a prime-time documentary hosted by actor Charlton Heston and directed by Bill Cote, called Mystery of the Sphinx. The program centered on the research and writings of John Anthony West, a (non-academic) Egyptologist, who, along with Dr. Robert Schoch, a professor of Geology at Boston University, made an astounding discovery on the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article