by Murray Wardrop
Tiger Woods' earnings would apparently have been small beer for the fearless entertainers of the Circus Maximus. One charioteer, named Gaius Appuleius Diocles, amassed a fortune 35,863,120 sesterces in prize money – the equivalent of $15 billion (£9.6 billion), claims Peter Struck, a professor of classical studies.
The 2nd century “champion of all charioteers” made his fortune even without the sponsorship and marketing fees that bolster the pay of his modern counterparts in the sporting world. The extent of his riches is recorded on a monumental inscription erected in Rome in 146AD by his fellow charioteers and fans.
Prof Struck, from the University of Chicago, calculated that Diocles’s wealth would have been enough to fund the entire Roman Army for more than two months at the height of its imperial reach. “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,” said Prof Struck. “Even without his dalliances, it is doubtful Tiger could have matched it. Tiger was never all that well paid when compared with the charioteers of ancient Rome.”
The higher level of pay did not come without its perils for Diocles and his contemporaries. With little more than a leather helmet, shin guards and simple chest armour for protection, racers endured seven gruelling laps of competition, which often ended in the deaths of rivals unfortunate enough to be upended. Competitors were affiliated to teams – not dissimilar to those of today’s Formula 1 – which invested in training and development of horses and equipment. Like Diocles, who retired aged 42, they were usually drawn from the lower orders of society.
NB: Prof Struck, undergraduate chair of classical studies, says: “The very best paid of these – in fact, the best paid athlete of all time – was a Lusitanian Spaniard named Gaius Appuleius Diocles. “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. 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.”