Highest Paid Athlete of All Time

Peter Struck in Lapham's Quarterly:

ScreenHunter_11 Sep. 05 13.01 Last fall, Forbes magazine was all atwitter as Tiger Woods closed in on becoming “the first athlete to earn over $1 billion” in the course of his career. Presumably his fortunes will now start to droop, but Forbes missed the mark—taking the long view, Tiger was never all that well paid to begin with when compared with the charioteers of ancient Rome.

The modern sporting spectacles we manage to stage—and on occasion be appalled by—pale by comparison to the common entertainments of Rome. The Circus Maximus, the beating heart at the center of the empire, accommodated a quarter million people for weekly chariot races. These outdrew stage plays (to the deep chagrin of the playwrights), the disemboweling of slaves and exotic carnivores in the gladiatorial combats of the Coliseum, and even the naval battles emperors staged within the city limits—real war ships with casts of thousands—on acres of man-made lakes they had dug out and drained the Tiber to fill.

For the races, spectators arrived the evening before to stake out good seats. They ate and drank to excess, and fights were common under the influence of furor circensis, the Romans’ name for the mass hysteria the spectacles induced. Ovid recommended the reserve seating as a good place to pick up aristocratic women, and he advised letting your hand linger as you fluff her seat cushion.

More here.