Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh
Journalist and Historian
Gaius Appuleius Diocles was born in approximately 104 A.D in Lamecum, in the Roman province of Lusitania (now Lamego, Portugal). His father owned a small transport business, and the family was comparatively well off. Diocles is believed to have started racing at the age of 18 in Ilerda (modern-day Lleida, in Catalonia, Spain).
Career in Rome
Diocles began his racing career in Rome in 122 A.D. with the racing stable known as the Whites, although he did not win a race until two years later. He became known as “the Lamecus” and brought fame and renown to his native city of Lamecum. He is often cited as the highest-paid athlete of all time. Within the city, a statue was erected on top of a fountain near a garden known today as Jardim do Campo, located in the center of town. Another monument dedicated to Diocles is located in Neumagen, Germany.
He most commonly raced four-horse chariots or quadrigae. Diocles is also notable for owning an extremely rare ducenarius, a horse that had won at least 200 races. Records show that he won 1,462 of the 4,257 four-horse races he competed in, and was placed in an additional 1,438 races (mostly finishing in second place). The “Champion of Charioteers” is one of the best-documented ancient athletes, due to his popularity and success at the Circus Maximus. Being the best in the field also seems to have allowed Diocles to perfect his showmanship. Many of his victories saw him race from behind, crossing the finish line at the last possible moment. This drama played to his widespread acclaim with fans. Any race with Diocles quickly became the featured event of the day. This naturally helped Diocles earn even more money.
He had an unusually long career for a charioteer, racing for 24 years and representing three of the four most famous chariot racing stables (factiones) in Rome, which were known by the racing colors worn by their charioteers (Reds, Whites, Blues, and Greens). He began with the Whites at the age of 18; after six years, he switched to the Greens for three years, and then raced 15 years for the Reds before retiring at the age of 42. After retirement, he eventually died in the small town of Praeneste.
His winnings reportedly totaled 35,863,120 sesterces, equivalent to 358,631.20 gold aureus or 2,600 kg of gold. As one modius (6.67 kg) of wheat in 79 AD Pompeii cost seven sestertii, Gaius Appuleius could have acquired 34,172 metric tons of wheat, roughly equivalent to US$7.3 million in 2019. His earnings could provide a year’s supply of grain to the entire city of Rome, or pay the Roman army at its height for a fifth of a year.
Classics professor Peter Struck describes him as “the best-paid athlete of all time”, worth between approximately $60 million and $160 million in equivalent basic goods purchasing power. In a single day, he earned more than the annual pay of a procurator. His wealth also eclipsed all but the wealthiest of the Roman senators.
- Struck, Peter T. (2010-08-02). “Greatest of All Time |”. Lapham’s Quarterly. Retrieved 2017-01-16.
- Wardrop, Murray (2010-08-13). “Wealth of today’s sports stars is ‘no match for the fortunes of Rome’s chariot racers'”. The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 2018-12-19. Retrieved 2018-12-19.
- Scanlon, Thomas Francis (2014). Sport in the Greek and Roman Worlds: Greek athletic identities and Roman sports and spectacle. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 300.
- “Charioteers and Racing Factions”. www.vroma.org.
- David Stone Potter (1999). Life, Death, and Entertainment in the Roman Empire. University of Michigan Press. pp. 296–.
- Goran Blazeski (January 18, 2017). “The highest-paid athlete of all time was a Roman Charioteer; if he had lived today he would have been worth $15 billion”. The Vintage News. Retrieved June 26, 2019.
- “Sondra’s Guide to Roman Money”. sites.fas.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2019-06-02.
- Guttmann, Allen (2004). Sports: The First Five Millennia. University of Massachusetts Press. p. 35.
- Roberts, Keith (2011). The Origins of Business, Money, and Markets. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 241.
Originally published by Wikipedia, 11.17.2005, under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.