The Highest-Paid Athlete in Western History was a Roman Charioteer

If you think that modern athletes make a lot of money, they've got nothing on the ancients. Peter Struck, a classics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, states that a particular Roman chariot driver far exceeded the earnings of today's top athletes:

The very best paid of these—in fact, the best paid athlete of all time—was a Lusitanian Spaniard named Gaius Appuleius Diocles, who had short stints with the Whites and Greens, before settling in for a long career with the Reds. Twenty-four years of winnings brought Diocles—likely an illiterate man whose signature move was the strong final dash—the staggering sum of 35,863,120 sesterces in prize money. The figure is recorded in a monumental inscription erected in Rome by his fellow charioteers and admirers in 146, which hails him fulsomely on his retirement at the age of “42 years, 7 months, and 23 days” as “champion of all charioteers.”

His total take home amounted to five times the earnings of the highest paid provincial governors over a similar period—enough to provide grain for the entire city of Rome for one year, or to pay all the ordinary soldiers of the Roman Army at the height of its imperial reach for a fifth of a year. By today’s standards that last figure, assuming the apt comparison is what it takes to pay the wages of the American armed forces for the same period, would cash out to about $15 billion. Even without his dalliances, it is doubtful Tiger could have matched it.


Link via Super Punch | Photo by Flickr user BBM Explorer used under Creative Commons license

Previously: Bizarro: Roman Chariot Bumper Sticker

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http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/specials/fortunate50-2010/index.html

Even if you buy the assumptions in the article, Tiger Woods makes that much in three months. If you prefer to ignore endorsements, Floyd Mayweather Jr. makes that in four months. Over his lifetime, Woods will out-earn Diocles by a factor of 10.
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If, on the other hand, we make a different pulled-out-of-our-ass guess, and compare it to five times the wages of the typical state governor in modern America, we find that he wasn't all that well paid at all, compared to modern atheletes.
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I agree with violetriga, that is a very poor two stage assumption. Roman soldiers were, according to my understanding, pretty damnned poor! Troops today may not be wealthy, but they make quite a bit. Basing this on purchasing power is a good idea, and one should calculate the value of the grain he could buy.
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