What’s the number-one reason all high-school and collegial athletes aspire to play in the pro leagues? It’s all about the money, and it always has been since at least the second century AD. Even athletes back then were paid big bucks.
But the biggest of bucks in the entire history of the sports world weren’t paid out to Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan. Their $800 million and $2.1 billion net worths, respectively, are nothing compared to what charioteer Gaius Appuleius of the Roman Empire earned.
A Rising Talent
Gaius was born in Lamecus, the capital city of Emerita Augusta, in 104 AD. Gaius wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but his father’s small transport business did more than just pay the bills. Gaius began his racing career at age 18 and quickly become a rising star in Rome. His reputation was widespread, and it wasn’t long before he was called up to the big leagues. Known professionally as Lamecus Diocles, he was a local hero who had brought recognition to his hometown.
Similar to how Formula 1’s team system is set up, the Ancient Rome chariot scene was divided into different teams by color. Upon coming to Rome, Gaius drove for the White Team, the lowliest of the four factions. By age 24, he was recruited into the Green Team. Three years later, he was driving for the Red Team, which was an iffy move on his part since the Green Team was much better off and recognized as being more elite.
In modern sports, a journeyman is someone who is competent at the sport they play but is unable to excel. They play for different clubs or teams in a short time period, usually receiving smaller paychecks as opposed to their superstar peers. Gaius was somewhat of a journeyman himself, but his decision to move teams stemmed from an undying thirst for money.
Gaius’ underlying reason for signing with Red and leaving Green was for money and to be the best charioteer of his team. He immediately became a superstar among his more amateurish teammates, earning several times more than the others. Plus, his showmanship and from-behind victories had the crowds jumping to their feet every time, which would make him even wealthier than he already was.
$15 Billion Net Worth (adjusted for inflation)
Dissimilar to modern superstar athletes, Gaius’ fortune didn’t come from sponsorships and shoe deals. Instead, every sestertius he earned was solely from his prize earnings over this 24-year-long career.
By the time Gaius retired at the age of 42, he had competed in 4,257 four-horse chariot races, winning 1,462 times and placing in 1,438 races. His astounding career in chariot racing is one of the most well-documented of all ancient athletes.
Most charioteers died in their 20s due to the inherently dangerous nature of the sport. Gaius was an anomaly, retiring at the age of 42 and having enough money to purchase a humungous piece of land to live out his days. He died approximately two years after retirement with more than five times the money that a provincial governors would have made in the same time frame.