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98% of Romans survived on diet of millet

Many people think of the ancient Romans as always having feasts filled with roasted animals, fruits and unidentifiable delicacies. This may have been true of the elite, but 98% of Romans did not fall into that category and instead subsisted on a diet of millet, a grain look down upon by the wealthy.

Historical texts dismiss millet as animal feed or a famine food, Killgrove said, but the researcher’s findings suggest that plenty of ordinary Romans depended on the easy-to-grow grain. One man, whose isotope ratios showed him to be a major millet consumer, was likely an immigrant, later research revealed. He may have been a recent arrival to Rome when he died, carrying the signs of his country diet with him. Or perhaps he kept eating the food he was used to, even after arriving in the city.

“There’s still a lot to learn about the Roman Empire,” Killgrove said. “We kind of think that it’s been studied and studied to death over the last 2,000 years, but there are thousands of skeletons in Rome that nobody has studied … This can give us information about average people in Rome we don’t know about from historical records.”

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Story: Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience | Photo: Kristina Killgrove

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