The Highest-Paid Athlete Of All Time Is An Ancient Roman

“The desire for wealth is nearly universal, and none can say it is not laudable, provided the possessor of it accepts its responsibilities, and uses it as a friend to humanity.” —P.T. Barnum

In A Nutshell

While Tiger Woods is the modern athlete with the most career earnings, he has nothing on a second-century Roman charioteer named Gaius Appuleius Diocles. The former has amassed over $1 billion, while the latter earned the equivalent of over $15 billion over a 24-year career, giving him the title of the highest-paid athlete of all time.

The Whole Bushel

Today’s athletes seem like they receive an absurd amount of money for playing what is essentially just a game. (Granted, most sports require an unbelievable amount of skill and conditioning.) But even Tiger Woods, the first modern athlete to earn over $1 billion in his career, has nothing on the athletes of ancient Rome and the brightest of its stars: Gaius Appuleius Diocles.

Diocles was a charioteer and the most prolific of his day. Starting his career at the age of 18, he raced for over 24 years, an extremely uncommon length of time because of the inherent dangers of chariot racing. (It was basically seven laps of “anything goes” racing around the track, with each driver also armed with a curved sword, in case his opponents got too close.) For his career, Diocles took part in 4,257 races, winning 1,462 of them. (He also got 2nd or 3rd place in another 1,438 races.) Nearly every one of his races was in the four-horse chariot and he frequently beat the best of the best of his competitors.

His patented move was a strong dash to the finish, as he won nearly one-third of his races by coming from behind on the last stretch. After retiring, a monument was erected in Rome, by his fellow racers and adoring public; it’s why we know the specific numbers involved with Diocles’ life. He retired at the age of 42 years, seven months, and 23 days and earned 35,863,120 sesterces in prizes, which comes out to around $15 billion in today’s dollars. (It was enough to provide grain for the entire city of Rome for one year.) In addition, Diocles was most likely illiterate, helping further the stereotype that athletes are just stupid jocks.

Show Me The Proof

Wealth of today’s sports stars is ‘no match for the fortunes of Rome’s chariot racers’
Roundtable: Greatest of All Time
The Career of Diocles, Roman Charioteer

  • Brp Goyo

    It’s never too early to start choosing a good horse breed xD

  • edzyl blane

    Ancient Romans really pay a great amount of money for leisure.

  • MRlC

    Work on you writing style Von D, otherwise enjoyable and interesting.

    • mctrolly

      yeah, work on “you” writing style. Not only is your comment snotty and unhelpful, it obviously wasn’t even proofread. Good contribution, turd.

      • Bluestreak .

        He didn’t mean any harm, just provided an suggestion,so please stop being a jerk.

        • mctrolly

          feast on my dick. how about that?

          • mctrolly

            also, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. so intent doesn’t really matter, does it? fact of the matter is, it was a useless comment, and he was sort of being an ass about it.

            Not that I’m claiming my comments are somehow useful, but at least I’m not superior about it.

          • Bluestreak .

            “but at least I’m not superior about it.” Seriously? Read your above comments.

          • MRlC

            he just bragged to strangers about how much money he makes, which is probably the saddest thing I ever saw on the internet that didn’t involve live animals trying to resuscitate dead ones.

          • Bluestreak .

            It wasn’t a useless comment, he was providing a suggestion/advice to the author so that he can further improve his work in future.

          • mctrolly

            did he provide guidance on HOW? no. no he did not. if the writer knew how to improve his writing style, he would have done so already. But obviously MRIC has his Phd in English so we should just be happy he/she has graced us with his/her presence.

          • Bluestreak .

            Huh, Let me think. Hmm…. Nope.

        • MRlC

          his name is mctrolly, don’t bother, he probably doesn’t have a lot going for him in life.

          • mctrolly

            you’re right, except for a couple of professional accounting certs and 95k a yr, health benefits, etc. do something with your life.

  • I’cia( ❤ My Falcons)

    Very interesting

  • Exiled Phoenix

    I was trying to drop a duece while reading this…. I dropped the load faster at reading $15 billion!

  • Limesy

    This post is misinformed and not very well correlated. The amount of money Tiger Woods makes for actually playing golf is staggeringly low compared to the one billion just casually tossed into this article. The majority of that money has been earned in endorsements from companies like Nike and Gatorade. Tiger Woods is not the modern world’s highest paid athlete, in a purse winnings to wealth ratio, but rather the richest celebrity.

    • Jrodickens

      He would not receive any of those endorsements was it not for golf. At no point does he say Tiger Woods made all that money from tournament winnings alone. He simply says he’s an athlete who has made that much money?? So why the hell are you talking about purse winnings to wealth ratio? Did you think the article was named ” The Highest Paid Athlete When Considering Purse Winnings to Wealth Ratio was an Ancient Roman”. Your just a critical asshole who looks for bullshit reasons to complain.

      • Jrodickens

        Let me guess? This was a misinformed and not very well correlated reply because I didn’t say ” You’re “???

        • inconspicuous detective

          you can edit the comment.

        • Limesy

          Also, do you even know what the word “correlated” actually means?

      • Limesy

        Hardly. Did Diocles make 95% of his earnings from sponsorships from regional Roman businesses? No, he didn’t. So i stand by what i said: very little correlation. You can call me critical but i think you’re an easy fool. Read, analyze, criticize. Without people like me, individuals could just post anything as educational – oh wait…

        • Jrodickens

          OK that’s true, but it helps to have valid points instead of the nonsense you apparently think is important. The article was moreso about the roman, not Tiger so why pick that apart? He simply used the highest paid modern day athlete and compared him to this roman character. Frankly Tiger Woods is EASILY 100% WITHOUT A DOUBT the most relevant athlete to use in this particular article. The fact he largely makes his money from endorsements has nothing to do with anything. What came off to me was the CORRELATION of Tiger Woods 1 billion to Diocles’ 15 billion. That’s all the author was going for, so stand by your comment all you want, your still a whiny little bitch complaining over bullshit.

          • Limesy

            Your points are all still relative to what YOU think is important from the article. In case you haven’t noticed we are in the comments section, ya know, where people can give their opinion. Keep on cussing and acting with such bravado over the internet, kiddo. I’m sure it will (continue, obviously) to take you places.

          • Jrodickens

            First of all “I’m sure it will to take you places” is not a sentence. Learn how to use brackets. Secondly, the title is “The Highest-Paid Athlete Of All Time Is An Ancient Roman”. It doesn’t take a genius to realize the focal point of this article is about an ancient roman and how much money he made. So yes that is my opinion, and if it isn’t yours, then your an idiot. So how do you think that not mentioning most of Tiger Wood’s money came from endorsements somehow leaves the reader misinformed about Diocles?? The whole mentioning of Tiger Woods was a mere subtext to what the article is all about for christ sake!! But if your opinion consists of complaining that a 3 paragraph essay doesn’t explain enough about the finances of a man the article isn’t even about, then your “critical thinking” is far too abundant to be of use to anyone, even for a comment section.

          • Limesy

            Since we are being asshole grammar nazis…
            Your last sentence and sentence six are both extremely awkward.
            Brackets were not appropriate there or anywhere in my response, for that matter.
            And, troll much? I remember my first time getting into an argument on the internet that I thought someone actually meant, as well.

          • Jrodickens

            Ding Ding Ding And he’s officially out of things to say on the actual topic folks, WE HAVE A WINNERRRRR!!!!

          • Limesy

            Aaaaaaand someone missed the point of my last post. Congrats, bro, you beat a man who (reluctantly) keeps checking knowledgenuts when he should be finishing his case study on the Nicaraguan arms trade. Well done.

  • rick page

    It would be interesting to know what the social lifestyle of a successful Gladiator would be like in comparison to athletes of today. Did people spread false gossip about them? Did they even care? That sort of thing.

  • special.ED

    The article never said he earned his money from just races. Prizes back then were like endorsements are today. He was presented with prizes and money for winning. Tiger woods gets endorsments and money for winning. If he didnt win that much their would be no reason to endorse Tiger. This article is perfect.

    • Limesy

      By that logic all pay, in all fields, are “like endorsements”.

  • diablo135

    I’m wondering if we can truly compare ancient money to modern currency. I’m not talking about just inflation. I’m talking about overall economies, societies and standards of living. It’s not even comparing apples to apples.


  • Earl Martin

    that’s a true boss

  • Ami B

    Interesting indeed! I love cricket and here in India the highest paid cricketers that I have ever seen are Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni. Kohli is in the reckoning.