In today’s era of multi-million dollar salaries for professional sports figures, it might surprise you that even the wealthiest of modern athletes cannot hold a candle to the best-paid sportsman of all time. In 2017 Real Madrid soccer star Ronaldo Cristiano brought in $93 million. As impressive as that is, it is mere pocket change for Gaius Appuleius Diocles. Gaius Appuleius Diocles, of Lamego, Lusitania (now Lamego, Portugal), was a Roman chariot racer whose career spanned from A.D. 124 to A.D. 146.
Chariot racing was the biggest sporting event of the ancient world. In the Roman, Greek, and Byzantine cultures, chariot races attracted massive crowds, filling the amphitheaters. Like modern sporting events, fans tended to adhere quite passionately to certain teams, generating long-standing rivalries.
The chariot races were very dangerous for participants, thus adding to the allure and excitement of events. Unlike other sporting events of the day, such as gladiator fights, women were allowed to attend chariot races, adding even more of a draw to attendance.
Charioteers became very well known and well-paid celebrities. The very best of these, Gaius Appuleius Diocles, had a long career with the Reds team. Over a twenty-four year career, Diocles raked in 35,863,120 sesterces in prize money. That equates to more than $15 billion in today’s currency.
When he retired in A.D. 146, he was so admired by his fellow charioteers that they erected a statue in his honor. The inscription on the statue records his earnings and declares on his retirement at the age of “42 years, 7 months, and 23 days” him to be the “champion of all charioteers.”
His total earnings would have been 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 about three months.