Newly deciphered papyrus reveals ancient Greek wrestling matches were fixed
Researchers have translated an ancient Greek document from 267 AD, which talks about an ancient wrestling match that was fixed, Live Science reports. The document is a contract between the guarantors of two teenage wrestlers, Nicantinous and Demetrius, who reached the final stage of a prestigious series of games that were held in Antinopolis, Egypt. In it the father of Nicantinous pledges to pay Demetrius 3,800 drachma if he allows Nicantinous to win. It is the first record of a bribe for game fixing to be found in the ancient world.
The ancient contract was first discovered over a century ago at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt by an expedition team led by archaeologists Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt. It was translated by Dominic Rathbone, a professor at King's College London, and just published in ‘The Oxyrhynchus Papyri’.
The contact pertains to the Great Antinoeia, an important series of regional games held in honour of Antinous, the deceased male lover of the Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD). After Antinous drowned in the Nile River nearby, the town of Antinopolis was founded in his honour, and he became a god, and statues of him were found throughout the Roman Empire.
A statue of Antinous, who was honoured in the Great Antinoeia games. Photo source.
In this ancient form of wrestling, the objective was to throw the opponent to the ground three times in order to win. The document stipulates that Demetrius must “fall three times and yield”, in exchange for payment of 3,800 drachmas (a sum which could be enough to buy a donkey). It also includes a clause that Demetrius would still be paid even if the judges realise the match is fixed and refuse to allow Nicantinous to win.
The contract continues that if Demetrius backs out of the deal during the match and goes on to win, he must pay a penalty “on account of wrongdoing three talents of silver of old coinage without any delay or inventive argument."
Although this is the only known contract recording a bribe between ancient athletes, Rathbone said that bribery in athletic competitions was not unusual. By the time of the Roman Empire, bribery in athletic competitions was getting more prevalent as the events became more lucrative.
Featured image: The ancient contract that has now been translated. Photo Credit: Egypt Exploration Society