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Carnuntum reconstructed.

Researchers Discover Gladiator Fans Had Souvenirs, Fast Food, and Fresh-Baked Treats at Their Fingertips


A team of archaeologists from Austria claim that they have uncovered the remnants of bakeries, fast-food stands, and shops that once served the Gladiator spectators of the ancient Roman city of Carnuntum in modern-day Austria. The team also created impressive digital reconstructions of what the area would have looked like at its heyday.

Ancient Ruins Reveal the Habits of Roman Spectators

A new discovery in Carnuntum, Austria, shows once again how much the Greco-Roman culture has influenced and shaped Western civilization. Just like most spectators do nowadays when they attend a sporting event, Roman “sports fans” also used to buy souvenirs of their favorite and most popular gladiators. The bakeries, fast-food stands, and shops detected in the area indicate that spectators back then would eat before, during, or after the gladiator or chariot events - even though we’re pretty sure that hamburgers and hot dogs weren’t on the menu back then.

Gladiator school and shops.

Gladiator school and shops. (LBI ArchPro/7reasons)

Modern Carnuntum

The quiet town of Carnuntum which exists today, just a few miles outside Vienna, doesn’t look anything like the fervid city it once used to be (it was the fourth largest city of the Roman Empire during the 2nd century AD), even though there are certain ruins, such as the monumental Heathen's Gate and the amphitheater, that designate the city’s rich cultural past. Most of the city’s remains are laying underground beneath pastures, while the site has recently been the target of treasure hunters.

Carnuntum reconstructed

Carnuntum reconstructed. (LBI ArchPro/7reasons)

In 2011, Wolfgang Neubauer, director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI ArchPro), with the help of his colleagues, identified a gladiator school at Carnuntum, complete with training grounds, baths, and cells where hundreds of gladiators spent their lives as prisoners. Neubauer has been studying the underground city for a long time, but without disturbing it, with the help of noninvasive practices, such as aerial photography, ground-penetrating radar systems, and magnetometers.

Last Research Reveals City’s “Entertainment District”

During the most recent research, Neubauer’s team discovered Carnuntum's "entertainment district," unconnected from the rest of the city, outside the amphitheater, which could welcome around thirteen thousand people. The archaeologists of the team identified a broad, shop-lined boulevard directing to the amphitheater. After comparing the newly identified structures to known buildings found at other popular Roman cities, such as Pompeii, Neubauer and his colleagues concluded that many of those buildings along the street had most likely served as ancient businesses, "Oil lamps with depictions of gladiators were sold all around this area," Neubauer told Live Science.

In addition to the souvenir shops, the researchers also discovered a string of taverns and "thermopolia" where people bought food at a counter, "It was like a fast-food stand. You can imagine a bar, where the cauldrons with the food were kept warm," Neubauer told Live Science. 

Research Also Reveals Another Amphitheater

The researchers also found a storehouse for threshed grain with a huge oven, which was probably used for baking bread. Objects that are usually exposed to such high temperatures have a distinguishable geophysical signature, so when Neubauer's team found a large, rectangular structure with that signature, they concluded that it must have been an oven for baking as Live Science reports.  

A carbonized loaf of ancient Roman bread from Pompeii.

A carbonized loaf of ancient Roman bread from Pompeii. (CC BY SA 2.0)

More importantly, however, the latest research also revealed another, older wooden amphitheater, almost 400 meters (1,300 feet) from the main amphitheater, covered under the later wall of the civilian city.

Finally, the team announced that they plan to publish the results in an academic journal.

Top Image: Carnuntum reconstructed. Source: LBI ArchPro/7reasons

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Theodoros Karasavvas's picture


Theodoros Karasavvas, J.D.-M.A. has a cum laude degree in Law from the University of Athens, a Masters Degree in Legal History from the University of Pisa, and a First Certificate in English from Cambridge University. When called upon to do... Read More

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