The ‘Real’ Gladiator Diet – Mark Hatmaker

Imagination Time-Call forth images of the lean and mean, jacked and ripped cast of the television show Spartacus. You know the body-type I’m talking about, the taut, toned, chiseled body-fat of 5% physiques that reek of 2-3 HIT workouts per day and scrupulously avoiding all sugars and carbs, while piling on all the paleo-approved goodies that you can choke down.

Got those enviable images in mind?


Before we get to The Gladiator Diet, allow me to ask another question of our Spartacus cast-members.

No matter how jacked and ripped these performers are, no matter how much undoubted discipline and hard work goes into attaining these forms, do we think this translates to true gladiatorial skill? Actual combat prowess?

Of course, not.

Don’t get me wrong, hard-work is hard-work and we are able to do more with a fit athlete than an unfit athlete but these performers would be the first to tell you they eat and train to look like warriors not to be warriors.

With this said, what did the actual gladiators consume to fuel for actual gladiator combat? Might there be a difference between training to be a gladiator and training to be a pretend gladiator?

You betcha.

Paleo-pathologists Karl Grossschmidt and Fabian Kanz, both of the Medical University at Vienna, have been doing analyses of more than 60 gladiator skeletons found buried in a mass grave in western Turkey [formerly Ephesus.] They subjected the remains to isotopic analysis which allowed them to assay for trace elements and determine the composition of the diet that went into making these warriors of the Colosseum.

So what did they find? Were they Paleo? Were they on the Zone? Were the gladiators on the South Beach Diet? Surely, to God, they were at least on the Mediterranean Diet considering where they were. What exactly fueled these real gladiators?

Turns out, they were primarily on a vegetarian diet. Not just that, a vegetarian diet heavy on the carbs.

Keep in mind the diet was not based in poverty or a dearth of protein sources as other non-gladiator skeletons from the same region do not show this same dietary make-up. Also keep in mind gladiators, whether slaves or voluntary were a valuable commodity and it seems they weren’t being deprived of meat, but rather being fed as well as the gladiator Ianista [trainer] could afford to keep his athletes in peak condition for the performances.

The results of the isotopic analyses should be of little surprise to the deep digging historian who is aware that contemporaneous accounts of gladiators often referred to them as hordearii [that is, “barely men.”] Many extant purchasing bills for the gladiatorial schools reflect a diet heavy on barley, heavy on legumes, that is lots and lots and lots of beans. Lots and lots of carbs.

It seems, despite our images of Spartacus or 300 cast-members, that gladiators were groomed to be a bit, well, fat, and what is more, purposefully so.

One To increase mass as we are dealing with a no-weight class competition [the opposite of what we have in today’s tamer combat sports] and…

Two To allow the subcutaneous fat to act as a sort of dermal armor. Grossschmidt states, “Gladiators needed subcutaneous fat. A fat cushion protects you from cut wounds and shields nerves and blood vessels in a fight.”

Three This layer of fat provides a better show. Grossschmidt again, [Surface wounds] “look more spectacular. If I get wounded but just in the fatty layer, I can fight on. It doesn’t hurt much, and it looks great for the spectators.”

Think of this as being akin to blading, juicing, gigging, or getting color in professional wrestling in which the athletes intentionally cut themselves on the sly to add to the drama of the spectacle.

An intriguing addition to their isotope analyses reveals a high calcium content, meaning that the gladiator athletes were supplementing their carb heavy diet with calcium supplements. The historical record shows that gladiators often garnered this calcium not with a trip to the nutrition store, but by chugging concoctions that included calcium rich substances such as charred wood or bone ash.

Then, as now, anything to pursue an advantage.

So, with the science and history in mind, real gladiators looked less like Gerard Butler in 300 [Spartans and not gladiators I know, but you get my drift] or anyone in the cast of Spartacus and perhaps a bit more like UFC fighter Roy “Big Country” Nelson.

Whether or not this actual gladiator diet would work for us or not is not the point of today’s fun. But rather to point out what is often the wide gulf between reality and the comic book images that we often allow to intrude on fact.

The proof, more often than not, is in the hard work and the diligent drilling than it is in what you digest and/or look like on the beach.

At least that’s what the gladiators and scientists would tell us.




Learning Bundle: Research Smarts

From the streets to the Ivory Towers and back – the other side of conflict research, Part 2 – James Hall

Last month, the first part of this article offered an introduction to the research into conflict and violence undertaken by Universities and other institutions. This month, we will look at how this extensive body of institutional research can be accessed.

The main channel by which academic and other institutional research is exposed to the rest of the world is academic journals. Tens of thousands of different journal titles are published worldwide, containing articles written by researchers and reviewed by peers, i.e. other researchers in the same field as the author. Journals may be published in print, electronic or both forms. Unfortunately for the lay reader, academic journals are nowhere near as accessible, and often nowhere near as readable, as the books and blogs and websites which many of us are more used to. Most academic journals provide access on a subscription basis only, which for individuals can be expensive – over £100 / US$150 per journal per year in some cases. Some ‘open access’ journals can be accessed free of charge, usually online, but the journals with the strongest reputations for high quality research often charge the highest subscription fees, and vice-versa. Identifying relevant journals from the vast number of published titles can also be challenging, particularly in an inter-disciplinary field such as conflict and violence. Some journals exist which are specific to the field, and relevant research is also published in journals specific to each of the many disciplines which conduct research into the various dimensions of conflict and violence.

Lastly, research in academic journals is presented in a format and style which is intended for an academic audience, not the lay reader. Academic readers will be interested in not only the outcome of the research and its implications, but also in its design, the quality of its statistical analysis, and so on. Sections of some academic articles will be meaningless to any reader who doesn’t have at least some education in statistics beyond High School level. All of these challenges can, however, be overcome, with a little effort.

The most accessible starting point when exploring academic research is Google Scholar ( Entering search terms (e.g. ‘teen dating violence’) into Google Scholar will return a list of academic resources matching the search terms. Often, only a summary of each article will be available, but in some cases the full article may be accessible as a PDF or via a web link. However, this is a comparatively unstructured approach which may not be the best if you are looking for high-quality research on a specific topic, in which case your nearest University is probably the best resource.

Most Universities have institutional subscriptions to numerous journals, which are made available for students, faculty and staff via their Library service. Some Universities also offer access to members of the public, although practice varies widely. For example, in the UK: Bristol University offers no public access at all; Oxford University’s Bodleian Library provides public access to its printed and electronic resources for £38 (c. US$60) per year; Birmingham University offers access free of charge to its printed resources for up to ten visits per year, or unlimited access to printed resources and limited access to electronic resources at a cost of £50 (c. US$80) per year; and Nottingham University provides unlimited public access to printed resources and its pubic e-resource suite completely free of charge. In all cases though, resources can only be accessed at the physical location of each University’s library – printed resources cannot be borrowed, and electronic resources cannot be accessed remotely. A good starting point would be to contact the Library service at your nearest University and ask about their public access policy.

Identifying relevant and credible journals is just as much of a challenge for students as for members of the public. Consequently all University libraries have expert staff who will be happy to offer help in this regard. Demand for this service from students tends to be greatest as deadlines approach, which tend to be towards the end of terms / semesters, so the Librarian service (or equivalent) may be more available in the middle of term / semester when student demand is lower.

Examples of relevant journals include:


  • Psychology of Violence (
  • Journal of Interpersonal Violence (
  • Violence and Victims (

Open access:

  • Journal of Aggression and Violent Behaviour (
  • Journal of Injury and Violence Research (

Some subscription-based journals offer open access to selected articles, e.g. the International Journal of Conflict and Violence (

The credibility of journals and individual articles can often be gauged by the number of times a specific article, or articles published in a specific journal, are referenced by other researchers. The databases to which University libraries often provide this information, and again the Librarian service should be able to show you how to access this information. This is only one indicator, however – newer research will obviously have been referenced by other researchers less frequently than older research.

Gathering the important information from journal articles is largely a matter of understanding how they are written. Articles presenting different types of research will be presented in different formats, but most will follow a structure resembling the following:

Abstract: All articles will begin with an abstract, which is a short summary (usually no more than 200 words) of the article. A well-written abstract will state why the research was done, how it was done, the main outcome of the research and the main implications, in a style which is easy to read. The purpose of the abstract is to enable the reader to decide whether to invest time in reading the full article, which is important for the academic audience, but for the lay reader the abstract will often provide enough information by itself. Subscription-based journals which are published online often make the abstracts of their articles available free of charge, charging only for access to the full article.

Introduction: The main body of the article will normally start with an Introduction, which sets out the background to the specific piece of research and why it was done. It should clearly state the ‘research question’, i.e. the specific question which the research aims to answer. This section usually contains references to earlier relevant research, so it is always worth reading the Introduction as it can point you in the direction of other articles which may be of interest.

Method: The next section normally describes the method by which the research was carried out, which could be anything from an online questionnaire to a complex lab experiment to a thirty-year longitudinal study. This section is vitally important for the academic audience, as it enables other academics to attempt to replicate the research in order to confirm or challenge its findings. Where the article is based on studies of real people (as opposed to published statistics or analysis of other research), for example psychology experiments, this section should include a description of the Participants, i.e. who took part in the study. This description should consist of the number of participants, the range and average of their ages and the proportion of males and females. In some cases, particularly in large or long-term studies, researchers will select their participants very carefully in order to try and make their sample as representative as possible of the population in general. In other cases, researchers will use ‘opportunistic sampling’, i.e. whoever is available. Understanding the profile of the participants is important in deciding the extent to which the findings of the research apply to the population as a whole. If the sample is strongly weighted in favour of one gender, or drawn from only a narrow range of ages etc., the less generally applicable the findings may be.

Results: In a well-written article, the Results section should set out the results of the research in plain English (or whatever the language of publication happens to be) and provide the statistics to back it up. The plain English part should suffice for those of us not expert in statistical analysis.

Discussion: The Discussion section usually links the findings of the study back to the earlier research identified in the Introduction – e.g. whether the study supports or contradicts earlier findings. It should also set out the implications of the research, for example whether it challenges the accepted understanding of a phenomenon or current social policy. In a well-written article it should also identify areas for further research and the authors’ reflections upon their own research, e.g. with hindsight, whether the method could have been improved.

In summary, while the language in which academic articles are written may not always be easy for the non-expert reader to follow completely, by understanding the typical structure of an article it is possible to find and absorb the most important pieces of information.

Following the work of specific researchers is another way to keep up with developments in relevant research areas. All journal articles will give the name of their author(s) and their institution(s). Institutions normally provide a ‘People search’ and/or ‘Contact search’ function on their website, which will enable you to find the web pages and contact details of the author. Many researchers are happy to be contacted by people interested in their research, and of course some will be active bloggers and users of social media.

Currently, it seems that there is little crossover between the worlds of experience-based and academic research into conflict and violence. I hope that this article will be a starting point in developing links between these two worlds, and that you will start to explore the immense body of institutional research into conflict and violence for yourself. I personally am about to return to study with the intention of getting into research into the psychological aspects of conflict and violence. It’ll take a while to get there, but along the way I hope to develop more and stronger links between the worlds of practical self protection and institutional conflict and violence research. If you would like to stay in touch with my progress, or discuss any matter covered by this article, please find me on Facebook (/james.hall.902819) or e-mail me at


From the streets to the Ivory Towers and back – the other side of conflict research – James Hall

Part 1

The Conflict Research Group International describes itself on its homepage as “an alliance of individuals”. Through this publication and their own books, blogs etc., these individuals share many lifetimes’ worth of first-hand experience of all aspects of conflict and violence, usually gained the hard way. This collective individual experience is not the only mode of research in this subject area, however. Many Universities and other institutions actively conduct research which seeks to identify and reveal truths about conflict and violence not through direct experience, but through detailed social studies, experimentation and other means. The purpose of this article is to raise awareness of this academic research activity, suggest some ways in which it is relevant to the world of practical self-protection and offer guidance on how the output of this research can be accessed.

Institutional research into conflict and violence crosses the boundaries of many traditional academic disciplines, including criminology, psychology, sociology, politics, history, geography and medicine. While some research is conducted within these traditional disciplines, a number of inter-disciplinary research centres have also been formed, drawing together researchers from diverse academic backgrounds to focus specifically on the subject of conflict and violence. A very small selection of these institutions includes:


UK: Violence Research Centre, University of Cambridge

USA: Interdisciplinary Center for Research on Violence, University of Illinois at Chicago

Canada: Center for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence, University of Guelph

New Zealand: Te Awatea Violence Research Centre, University of Canterbury

Germany: Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence, Bielefeld University

Some of these research units have an interesting history. For example, the Violence Research Group at the University of Cardiff (UK) originated in that University’s School of Dentistry, when a professor of reconstructive dental surgery noticed that many of his patients who had suffered dental trauma as a result of violence had very similar injuries, and set out to explore how these common patterns arose. The research interests of this group have now diversified far beyond dentistry, some examples of which will be presented later in this article.

Research by Universities and other institutions looks at conflict and violence on a number of different levels:


  • Interpersonal violence: As individuals with an interest in self-protection, whether as instructors, students, both or other, we are primarily interested in interpersonal violence, which as the name suggests is violence inflicted by one person upon another. This is also a highly active area of research for Universities, focussing on specific types of interpersonal violence such as intimate partner violence (a.k.a. domestic violence), violence in teen dating relationships, child abuse, bullying etc.


  • Inter-group conflict: How groups in conflict perceive and behave towards one another, ranging from the different ways in which group members refer to ‘in-group’ and ‘out-group’ individuals to extremes such as acts of terrorism, or the Rwandan inter-tribal conflict which culminated in the genocide of 1994


  • Intra-state violence: For example, how oppressive regimes use violence as a means to control the population and quell opposition within their borders


  • Inter-state conflict: How conflict occurs between nations and how such conflict can be managed or can escalate, ranging from diplomatic strategies to the conduct and management of military operations

Some institutions or research centres specialise in one of the categories above, or in even more precise areas within those categories, e.g. in the UK, the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol focusses on gender-based violence, and the Handa Centre at the University of St. Andrews on terrorism and political violence.

The direct and indirect benefits to society resulting from this research can be roughly categorised as follows:

Raise awareness

Research has exposed ‘hidden’ forms of violence which were previously believed not to exist. For example, researchers at the University of Rhode Island published a study in 1982 which identified the problem of child-on-parent violence (CPV), or parental abuse (PA), finding that 9% of parents of adolescents had experienced violence at the hands of their children at least once in the preceding year. A summary of the article can be viewed at  This research attracted little attention however, until Barbara Cottrell’s book ‘When Teens Abuse Their Parents’ was published in 2004 ( CPV is now a highly active area of research, one example being the Adolescent to Parent Violence Project at the University of Oxford (, a three-year Government-funded study which is the first large-scale investigation of CPV in the UK.

Elder abuse, female on male domestic violence and violence within teen dating relationships are all further examples of ‘hidden’ violence which have been exposed through research, with numerous institutions now working to understand these patterns of violence in greater depth.

Training and education

University research into violence and abuse has formed the basis of numerous education and training initiatives, from short films to graduate level courses. For example, the Institute for Applied Social Research at the University of Bedfordshire recently produced a series of short films on  gang-associated sexual exploitation and violence, based on an extensive and detailed study of the issue, which have been used to raise awareness of the issue in schools and colleges as well as among professionals and policy makers ( Numerous other such initiatives are in operation around the world. Masters-level courses in violence prevention, aimed primarily at professionals in the field of social work, are starting to become available, such as London Metropolitan University’s MSc in Crime, Violence and Prevention (

Prediction and prevention

In the field of interpersonal violence, much research activity is devoted to predictors of violence, i.e. behavioural, emotional, environmental and other characteristics which may help to predict the risk of an individual exhibiting violent behaviour. This knowledge can then be used to design interventions aimed at reducing the risk of and individual becoming violent, or the severity of their violence when it occurs. Other research seeks to predict and prevent violence in the wider, social sense. For example, researchers at Cardiff University have developed computer software which can analyse the patterns of movements in crowds, and identify patterns which have been found to precede violent incidents. The system can be used to alert authorities to a potential incident before it occurs, enabling police and other resources to be pre-emptively deployed to maintain order rather than reactively after an incident has occurred. BBC News reported on this software in February 2015 – the report can be viewed at

Research has also enabled authorities and other bodies to take a more effective strategic approach to violence prevention. A further product of research by Cardiff University is the ‘Cardiff model’, a protocol for information sharing between hospitals, police and local authorities in the city of Cardiff regarding victims and patterns of violent crime. By using this information to support joined-up violence prevention strategies, authorities have been able to reduce hospitalisations resulting from violent crime by half between 2002 and 2013, saving an estimated £5 million per year in policing, medical and court costs. The Cardiff Model is now being rolled out across the whole of the UK, and to date has been adopted by two-thirds of hospital emergency units and community safety partnerships. The Cardiff Model specification can be freely downloaded at

Violence prevention strategies extent all the way to global level. The World Health Organisation (WHO) operates the Global Campaign for Violence Prevention, which treats violence as a public health issue. This campaign has produced ”The World Report on Violence and Health’, the first comprehensive review of violence on a global scale, which can be used as a common point of reference for any country developing its own violence prevention strategy. The full report can be freely downloaded from

Next month, we will look at how this extensive body of academic and other institutional research can be accessed. If you would like to discuss any of the matters covered in this article please find me on Facebook (/james.hall.902819) or e-mail me at