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What were gladiators drinking?

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Scene from the movie "Gladiator"
Scene from the movie Gladiator

Roman gladiators as an energy drink probably drank a drink made of vinegar, water and plant ash – this was the conclusion of scientists studying the remains of warriors from Ephesus (modern Turkey), discovered in 1933.

Analyzing the remains of gladiators (22 preserved bodies), scientists from Austria noticed that the bones contained almost twice as much strontium as lime; compared to other townspeople (31 surviving bodies) who followed a similar diet1. Based on these studies, there was a suspicion that maybe gladiators drank a special drink. Ash was used in the kitchen by the Romans to give it a “smoky” taste and for health purposes.

It was believed that the drink reduces pain, increases immunity, regenerates the body and rebuilds the bones2. This type of drink is mentioned in Pliny the Elder in his work “Natural History”, which suggested that gladiators drank it just after the fight.

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.

Pliny the Elder, Natural History, XXXVI.203

Footnotes
  1. The Romans' diet was not rich in protein. The gladiators, like other residents, ate a lot of grain products (mainly barley and wheat) and little meat. Broad beans were also eaten. Due to the fact that gladiators were mainly based on a barley diet, they were called hordearii - meaning "barley eaters".
  2. Nowadays, after a hard effort, we ingest calcium and magnesium.

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