In this winner-takes-all situation, both sides may have decided to curb their risks by making a deal to fix the match, Rathbone said.
"If you were confident you would win, normally you would go for it," he said. "If you're not sure you would win, maybe you're cutting your risk by saying, 'At least I get the bribe,'" Rathbone said.
But researchers still wonder, why did the guarantors for the athletes create a written contract recording the agreement? "That's the really bizarre thing; isn't it?" Rathbone said, noting that if either side reneged on the deal, it would be hard to take the matter to court.
He has also noted oddities in the way the contract was drawn up. "It doesn't look as though they've actually gone as far as getting a scribe with legal knowledge to do this for them, which makes you wonder if it's a bit of an empty thing," Rathbone said. "It's not really likely that either side is going to [seek recourse] if the other defaults."
Although this is the only known contract recording a bribe between ancient athletes, there are references in ancient sources indicating 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, Rathbone said.
"There are sources that things had got a bit worse in the Roman Empire when there were more games and when there were more financial rewards, particularly these municipal pensions," Rathbone said. These pensions consisted of payments that an athlete's hometown awarded to winners and could continue for the rest of their life.
Original article on LiveScience.com.
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