Article originally posted in Spanish by Francisco Javier Tostado, here (the work was edited to remove cultural references that would not be understood by English-speaking audiences).

In the 1st century BCE, after an arduous fight, we would have been able to see the famous Thracian slave, Spartacus, drinking a replenishing drink much as our modern athletes do. Many of the gladiators recovered from the arduous effort required for combat with a mysterious drink. What did it contain? Is it that Red Bull existed in the period?

Nothing was further from reality as Red Bull, but the results are equally stunning.

A recent study by the Department of Forensic Medicine at the University of Vienna in tandem with the University of Berna and published by the magazine Plos One, has demonstrated what the ancient texts already made us believe (among them Pliny the Elder and his Historia Naturalis), that after fighting the combatants with drink an ash tonic. According to Fabian Kanz, one of the authors of the article, the mysterious drink to which the ancients referred was composed of “ashes obtained by the burning of cedar, pine, and oak wood, mixed with vinegar and water, made sweet by honey.”

The city of Ephesus, on Turkey’s western coast, was the capital of the Roman province of Asia and its population was numbered in some 250,000 inhabitants. On the skirts of a nearby hill lays still a Roman amphitheatre with capacity for 25,000 spectators where gladiatorial fights took place. Dozens of skeletons and some untouched tombs were discovered there in 1993, in the archeological portion of the city. The study of the bones via spectroscopy allowed for measurement colagen in forty skeletons, as well as the proportions of strontium and calcium in the bones, on the one hand; and the isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur, on the other. The skeletons were compared with those of the regular population also found in the same location and the results were nothing short of surprising.

Historians have been able to confirm that gladiators had a special diet based on beans and grains; however, after comparing gladiatorial bones to those of the regular population it was confirmed that their diet was not much different at all. Although, what did catch the attention of scholars was the presence of high levels of strontium in gladiator bones, leading them to conclude that they consumed more minerals from a source heavy in the aforementioned mineral and calcium, what they called the “Drink of Ash.”

I don’t know if Red Bull gave them wings, but that particular drink of ash must have been similar in its effects as the calcium and manganese supplements found in modern pharmacies.