Lost secrets of gladiators revealed by Timewatch
A forthcoming BBC Two Timewatch documentary (11 May, 9pm) reveals details of the first named Gladiator remains. Previously there has been no named Gladiator scientific material to access.
Thanks to the ground breaking work of Austrian forensic anthropologists – Dr Fabian Kanz and Professor Karl Grossschmidt – at a mass Gladiator grave in Ephesus, Turkey, Timewatch has been able to establish a detailed picture of how the Gladiator, identified as Gladiator trainer Euxenius, may have lived, fought and died.
The Gladiator grave at Ephesus contained the intermingled bones of 68 corpses – nearly all young men under 30 – totalling over 2,000 bones, with a further 5,000 fragments. Kanz and Grossschmidt have been conducting detailed tests on the remains for five years.
One of the corpses Kanz and Grossschmidt discovered, when tested, was significantly older then the rest. The remains were at least 50 years old at time of death, and had two major healed wounds to the skull.
These facts, combined with the finding of a tombstone at the site dedicated by two young gladiators to the memory of their trainer Euxenius, strongly suggest the remains were those of a retired Gladiator-turned-trainer – the world's first named Gladiator remains.
Franz and Grosschmidt used a spectrometer to establish the amount of strontium in Euxenius's bones. Levels of strontium indicate the amount of vegetable matter consumed over a lifetime, the higher the levels the more likely that the diet is devoid of meat. The pair thought that strontium levels would be lower in Gladiators, as they would need a protein rich diet in order to build muscle tissue.
What they found in Euxenius, and other unnamed Gladiator corpses, was to astound them. The results proved that Gladiators in fact had an almost completely vegetarian diet. They probably ate a diet of barley and beans washed down with a vinegar/ash drink – the forerunner of sports drinks.
It was only the night before the fight that Gladiators were allowed to feast. This rather bland and pulpy diet and reduced salivation associated with physical stress could account for their high instance of acute caries – tooth decay.
"The Romans may have known more about the human body than we ever thought possible," says Dr Kanz.
"Today in osteoporosis research a lot of work is being done to see if administering strontium instead of calcium will build strong bones. It has been found that if strontium is administered, the healing process takes place faster and the bones become more stable.
"Higher levels of strontium could have meant that Gladiators were less likely to receive crippling injuries and wounds."
In addition to diet, Timewatch – Gladiator Graveyard reveals that Gladiators benefited from advanced medical surgery.
The remains of Euxenius, and other Gladiator remains, showed evidence of surgical intervention – including complicated procedures such as amputations and cranial surgery.
The father of modern day surgery, Galen, is known to have practiced only 60 miles away from Ephesus, and Kanz and Grossschmidt have firm evidence that his techniques were used on many of the skeletons they studied.
Notes to Editors
Biographies of contributors:
Dr Fabian Kanz (Medical University of Vienna/Austrian Archaeological Institute)
Dr Kanz has a PhD in determination of elements in human bone by inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry and a Masters of Science in software development for the documentation of the preservation status of adult skeletons. His research topics are mainly associated with bone and other hard-tissues from resent and ancient humans. The work is focused on the use of scientific methodology (physical and chemical) to answer specific questions about the biological history of humans. Research fields are: osteology, physical anthropology, skeletal and dental biology, paleopathology, medical anthropology, forensic osteology, bio-archaeology and biomaterials.
Professor Karl Grossschmidt (Medical University of Vienna/Centre for Anatom and Cell Biology)
Professor Grossschmidt has a PhD in Anthropology. His research fields are: osteonecrosis of the femoral head; exploration of Egyptian mummies and anthropological medical research.
Professor Charlotte Roberts (University of Durham)
A state registered nurse initially (1975-78), she completed a BA in Archaeological Studies (Leicester, 1979-82), a MA Environmental Archaeology and Palaeoeconomy (Sheffield, 1983), and PhD in biological anthropology/palaeopathology/ medical history (Bradford, 1988). Appointed Lecturer in 1989 and Senior Lecturer in 1994 at Bradford University, she moved to Durham University in 2000 to become a Reader, finally being promoted to Professor of Archaeology in 2004.
Timewatch – Gladiator Graveyard, Friday 11 May 2007, 9pm, BBC Two