The ancient charioteer who’d lose on purpose


Charioteers were, to put it bluntly, the large penis ballers of the ancient world. The Roman equivalent of a sporting superstar today, no charioteer was more famous in the hippodrome than Gaius Appuleius Diocles. A charioteer so skilled he would intentionally allow his opponents win just to make things interesting. 

Before getting to that though we should probably talk about the sport of chariot racing itself for a moment, because holy shit was it all kinds of badass. How badass you ask? Well consider for a moment that chariot racing was considered to be one of the most dangerous and deadly forms of entertainment in Ancient Rome. Remember this a society that regularly held gladiatorial death matches between condemned prisoners and big-ass wild tigers.

Part of what made chariot racing so dangerous is the fact that deliberately crashing into other competitors or forcing them to crash wasn’t against the rules. Well technically it was but there was jack shit anybody could do about it. As you can imagine this often resulted in spectacular crashes that made the sport incredibly popular with the bloodthirsty masses who would turn up in droves hoping to see a 50 horse pileup. This in turn “encouraged” officials to look the other way when racers decided to go all Mad Max on one another.

Like sportsmen today chariot racers competed for one of four teams (Red, White, Green and Blue) which had fierce, often deadly rivalries that engaged in all the petty bullshit you’d see with sports teams today like stealing a star racer or deliberately messing with a rival team on a winning streak. The difference in this case being that “messing with” entailed side-swiping them with 2 tonnes of horse.

In specific regards to Diocles, as one of the greatest chariot racers of all time he was of course well versed in all of this petty pedantry, but was able to largely rise above it and set himself aside from his peers by just being that fucking good. How good? Well Diocles’ thing was intentionally letting his opponents win until the last possible second, at which point he’s charge ahead and win anyway. Presumably while giving them the Roman equivalent of the middle finger.

This tactic saw Diocles winning an astounding 1,462 races in a 24 year long career. Not content with winning more than a thousand races Diocles went right ahead and came second in around another 1,400. For the curious, Diocles took part in just over 4,000 races meaning he placed in almost 75% of the races he ever took part in.

Like many racers back then Diocles changed teams multiples times, however Diocles’ reasons for changing teams were a little odd. You see, it was widely agreed upon in Diocles’ time that the team with the best racers was the green team, which naturally saw Diocles being signed to race for them when he was just 24 years old. At the peak of the green team’s popularity though Diocles inexplicably jumped ship to the less prestigious red team.

This move was unprecedented because back then, while racers could change teams fans generally supported teams, not racers. Diocles was seemingly an exception to this rule since his popularity never wavered during this career. For anyone curious about why Diocles decided to change teams, historians theorise that he deliberately chose to join a shittier team purely to style on all the better racers on the green team.

As you can imagine after two and half straight decades of beasting on every chariot racer in Ancient Rome Diocles ended up being a fairly wealthy man. By which we mean he had enough money to fund the entire fucking Roman military for 2 months straight, at the height of its power. An amount that in modern terms is roughly equivalent to about $15 billion. Money Diocles spent like many modern sportsmen do, by buying the biggest mansion possible, a shit-ton of land and having a statue built in his honor with an inscription talking about how big his chariot-dick was.