Money and Glory: The Epic Tale of the Richest Athlete Ever

When discussing the richest athletes in history, names like Michael Jordan, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Floyd Mayweather often come to mind. These modern sports icons have accumulated enormous wealth, but none of them can hold a candle to the wealth of an athlete from ancient Rome – Gaius Appuleius Diocles.

The Wealth of Modern Athletes

Before we dive into the ancient riches of Gaius Appuleius Diocles, let’s take a moment to appreciate the immense wealth of modern-day athletes. The world of sports has seen a remarkable surge in earnings for top-tier athletes. For instance, Chelsea’s extravagant spending of over one billion dollars on new players in a single year, Apple and Adidas sharing revenues with stars like Lionel Messi, and Saudi Arabia offering a billion dollars to Kylian Mbappé to join their league are all indicators of the staggering wealth that can be achieved in contemporary sports.

Forbes releases an annual list of the highest-paid athletes, showcasing the financial success of modern sports stars. However, the exact net worth of athletes remains a well-guarded secret. While they are not obligated to disclose their financials, estimations reveal that some athletes have joined the exclusive club of billionaires. Names like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Floyd Mayweather, LeBron James, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Lionel Messi, all active within the last two decades, are among those who have made it to the top echelons of wealth.

The History of Wealthy Athletes

The debate over whether athletes are overpaid is not a recent one. The first athlete to earn over one million dollars in a year was Nolan Ryan in 1980. Astonishingly, even in the 1930s, legendary baseball player Babe Ruth earned more than the President of the United States. Babe Ruth humorously justified his substantial income by stating that he had a better year than the President.

However, if we travel back in time, well before the era of modern sports superstars, we discover a remarkable figure from ancient Rome – Gaius Appuleius Diocles. This charioteer, who competed in a sport that predates the gladiatorial games, managed to accumulate more wealth than all the superstars featured on Forbes’ lists today.

The Legend of Gaius Appuleius Diocles

Gaius Appuleius Diocles was a charioteer born in the province of Lusitania, modern-day Portugal, in 104 AD. This region was known for breeding the fastest racehorses on the continent, making it a fertile ground for budding charioteers. Gaius had an exciting and aggressive racing style that set him apart, earning him popularity in his province.

At the age of 18, he was invited to Rome, the world’s wealthiest and largest city at the time, to race at the Circus Maximus, the Champions League of chariot racing. He initially joined the White team, not one of the top factions but known for recruiting racers from the provinces, somewhat like Borussia Dortmund.

Gaius’s early years in Rome were not filled with success, but he possessed a significant advantage over his competitors. Most charioteers were slaves, compelled to compete like gladiators. Gaius, however, came from a relatively affluent family, allowing him better nutrition and rest, which contributed to his overall preparedness.

Gaius’s Secret to Longevity

One of Gaius’s secrets to success was his longevity in the sport. Chariot racing was perilous, with charioteers wearing minimal protection, including simple leather helmets, shin guards, and basic chest protectors. They were tied to the horses by ropes around their waist, which meant that crashes could be fatal, dragging charioteers around the track until they were dead or the horses tired.

Most charioteers suffered injuries or lost their lives within months of starting their careers, but Gaius managed to have a remarkably long and successful one. Just as modern athletes like LeBron James invest in maintaining their physical condition for a long career, Gaius may have set himself apart with his mental strength.

The Enigmatic Prize Money

Gaius’s immense wealth in ancient Rome is challenging to compare to modern standards. Populations were smaller, productivity differed, and the purchasing power of money was significantly distinct. However, it is clear that Gaius Appuleius Diocles was one of the richest individuals in Rome during his time, surpassed only by a few senators and the Emperor.

His wealth was so substantial that he could have fed the entire city of Rome for a year or hired around 30,000 Roman legionaries. Today, it is estimated that his fortune would be equivalent to approximately 15 billion dollars, which is seven times more than the wealth of Michael Jordan.

A Modest Retirement

Surprisingly, Gaius did not flaunt his wealth. After his retirement, he settled in the small town of Palestrina, in what is now the Lazio region of Italy. There, he raised a family and retired at the age of 42. Despite his extraordinary success, Gaius remained popular and wealthy until his death.


The story of Gaius Appuleius Diocles, the charioteer from ancient Rome, stands as a testament to the enduring fascination with sports and the remarkable wealth that athletes can accumulate. His incredible success and long career are a testament to his extraordinary talent and mental resilience, and his legacy continues to be remembered even in the modern era. In the ever-evolving world of sports, Gaius’s story serves as a timeless reminder of what it means to be a true legend in the world of athletics.