Taking a Dive


July/August 2014

Hellenistic-Wrestlers-ContractProof that ancient wrestling wasn’t always on the level has been found among 500,000 fragments of papyri discovered in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, more than a century ago. One fragment, recently scrutinized by historian Dominic Rathbone of King’s College London, concerns a wrestling match between two teenagers, Nicantinous and Demetrius, in A.D. 267. The contract, agreed upon by Nicantinous’ father and Demetrius’ trainers, stipulates that Demetrius must “fall three times and yield.” For his intentional submission, the loser would be paid 3,800 drachmas. Although match fixing is alluded to by some ancient Greek writers, according to Rathbone, “This is the first known papyrological evidence for bribery in an athletic competition.” The agreement also specifies that should the boy renege on the deal, Demetrius’ party would owe a penalty equal to 18,000 drachmas.