The highest-paid athlete of all time: a Roman charioteer

There is some discussion these days about the high salaries of modern athletes: are they worth it? Do these salaries demonstrate that society thinks these people are more or most valuable compared to others?

According to a new study, these high salaries are not just a feature of the modern era: a Roman charioteer is considered to be the highest paid athlete of all-time:

According to Peter Struck, associate professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, an illiterate charioteer named Gaius Appuleius Diocles earned “the staggering sum” of 35,863,120 sesterces (ancient Roman coins) in prize money…

Although other racers surpassed him in the total number of victories — a driver called Pompeius Musclosus collected 3,599 winnings — Diocles became the richest of all, as he run and won at big money events. For example, he is recorded to have made 1,450,000 sesterces in just 29 victories.

Struck calculated that Diocles’ s total earnings of 35,863,120 sesterces were enough to provide grain for the entire population of Rome for one year, or to fund the Roman Army at its height for more than two months.

“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,” wrote Struck.

It sounds like Roman society was quite willing to make stars out of its athletes/competitors. I would be curious to know: what it is about societies that causes them to confer celebrity status and vast sums of money on people who compete (and win) in games or events?

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