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Who was the highest-paid sportsman in history?

We are well used to bemoaning footballers' salaries, or gawping at Tiger Woods' vast worth, but modern superstars don't come close to matching the income of history's highest-paid athlete

Relief of a charioteer
Published: July 20, 2014 at 10:34 am
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Gaius Appuleius Diocles, a Roman charioteer who retired at the age of 42 after a career spanning 24 years, accrued winnings of 35,863,120 sestertius – or £10 billion in modern money.


The Lusitanian (from modern day Spain) entered his first race aged 18 in AD 121, and went on to survive more than 4,200 races. An extraordinary feat in itself, but Diocles did not just finish the seven laps time and time again but racked up 1,462 wins. In a sport defined by appalling danger and low life expectancy, Diocles’ achievement was remarkable.

The risk of chariots crashing – called a shipwreck – or the riders being trampled to death by horses was very high, and they had little in the way of protective armour. But it was Rome’s premier sport, watched by gargantuan crowds in the Circus Maximus, which dwarfed Wembley Stadium’s maximum capacity, and the rewards could be spectacular.

The details of Diocles’ riches were recorded on an inscription made by his fellow charioteers – and his legions of fans – erected in Rome in c146AD. His 35 million sestertius was enough to provide grain for everyone in the city of Rome for a year or fund the entire Roman army at the height of its power for two months.

Circus Maximus dwarfed Wembley Stadium’s maximum capacity, and the rewards could be spectacular

Diocles usually raced four-horse chariots, as seen in the hair-raising sequence in the 1959 Biblical epic Ben Hur, and is said to have owned a horse named Pompeianus that won 200 times.

This article was taken from BBC History Revealed magazine


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