Behind Romans and Greeks Physique
The mighty Roman soldier was a lightweight 62 kg on average. Yet in face-to-face combat against Gauls or Celts who weighed about 82 kg, the Roman warrior came out on top.
Julius Caesar was only 1.67 metres tall, and Alexander the Great wasn’t physically a big man, but history remembers them as giant warriors. One might ask why history remembers these lean people as giants.
The answer lies somewhere between the ways these people lived, and how adamantly they followed their convictions. There’s a lot to learn from ancient warriors.
To understand what made these people live as they did, you need to get acquainted with their priorities. What were their aesthetic and moral concepts of beauty and ugliness?
What did courage and cowardice mean to them? How did they relate to subjects such as health and sickness? And, especially, what were their attitudes toward pain, pleasure, deprivation, and compensation?
They traveled a lot
Romans devoured space. They spent most of their lives outdoors. They traveled the length and breadth of Latium, Italy, and the provinces (the regions that were conquered by the Romans, such as Gaul, North Africa, and Palestine) as soldiers, magistrates, or freed men entrusted with their patron’s business.
“On the move,” they had to be constantly alert and able to adapt to different foods, weather conditions, and especially to times of deprivation.
It was essential for nomadic people to maintain a practical diet, which could keep them moving from one place to another. They were, therefore, geared towards accessible seasonal fresh food, as well as using natural preservation methods for their food supply.
As you’ll soon see, diet and food supply played quite a large role in their lives. Maintaining a healthy food supply required special strategies. These strategies influenced almost every aspect of their lives, including how they planned war campaigns.
You are what you eat
Physical appearance was crucial to all Romans. They conducted business face-to-face. Army commanders had to stand before their soldiers and demonstrate physical and rhetorical authority. A positive self-image was an essential factor that could never be taken for granted.
Roman awareness of self was derived from the way others looked at them. Their virtues and vices were an open book, and were manifest in their style of dress, tone of voice, and choice of body movements.
They were forever on stage, but always played themselves. Judged by their physical appearance, those who neglected it were no longer respected as citizens or men. To look at a man was to know the truth about him.
The famous censor, Cato, wore a close-fitting toga. When giving speeches, he did so with deliberate delivery, few gestures, and careful steps. Thus he would exemplify his political program: austerity and restraint.
Roman people had a very strict, aesthetic concept of physical appearance. They had their own unique style, which they called cultus.
Cultus involved body washing, hairstyling, beard trimming and, especially, eating adequately. To suspend one’s body cultus demonstrated self-neglect. Gluttony was considered a disgrace, and obesity a humiliating weakness.
Censors debarred obese cavalrymen from the army. In order to look lean, Romans had to maintain a special diet.
Attention paid to physical appearance was evident among Spartan warriors, too. According to Plutarch, Spartans kept their hair long, as they believed that long hair made a strong man look handsome.
A shaved head was a sign of defeat and failure. A “skinhead” was a loser. Greeks idealized physical appearance and class. This is apparent when one looks at the way their artists portrayed Olympian athletes, heroes, and gods in paintings and sculpture.
The ancient Greeks had a common saying: “Tell me what you eat, with whom and how, and I will tell you who you are!”