Stable isotope and trace element studies on gladiators and contemporary Romans from Ephesus (Turkey, 2nd and 3rd Ct. AD)--mplications for differences in diet

PLoS One. 2014 Oct 15;9(10):e110489. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0110489. eCollection 2014.


The gladiator cemetery discovered in Ephesus (Turkey) in 1993 dates to the 2nd and 3rd century AD. The aim of this study is to reconstruct diverse diet, social stratification, and migration of the inhabitants of Roman Ephesus and the distinct group of gladiators. Stable carbon, nitrogen, and sulphur isotope analysis were applied, and inorganic bone elements (strontium, calcium) were determined. In total, 53 individuals, including 22 gladiators, were analysed. All individuals consumed C3 plants like wheat and barley as staple food. A few individuals show indication of consumption of C4 plants. The δ13C values of one female from the gladiator cemetery and one gladiator differ from all other individuals. Their δ34S values indicate that they probably migrated from another geographical region or consumed different foods. The δ15N values are relatively low in comparison to other sites from Roman times. A probable cause for the depletion of 15N in Ephesus could be the frequent consumption of legumes. The Sr/Ca-ratios of the gladiators were significantly higher than the values of the contemporary Roman inhabitants. Since the Sr/Ca-ratio reflects the main Ca-supplier in the diet, the elevated values of the gladiators might suggest a frequent use of a plant ash beverage, as mentioned in ancient texts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Archaeology*
  • Bone and Bones / chemistry
  • Diet*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Geography
  • Humans
  • Isotopes*
  • Male
  • Trace Elements*
  • Turkey


  • Isotopes
  • Trace Elements

Grant support

The study was funded internally by the Department of Forensic Medicine at University of Medicine Vienna. There were no other individuals employed or contracted by the funder than the named authors. Therefore no one other than the authors played any role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.