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News & views

Ancient wrestlers make FIFA look good, incidentally

[18 Mar 2016] A contract between two wrestlers at the 138th Great Antinoiea, a regional sporting contest in AD267, reveals the first recorded ‘incidence’ of match fixing in sporting history, according to a report in The Times.

Found on a rubbish dump at Oxyrhynchus (‘city of the sharp-nosed fish’, since you ask) in modern Egypt, the papyrus agreement describes how Nicantinous had to make his defeat look convincing to the judges, otherwise his opponent Demetrius wouldn’t pay the planned 3,800-drachma (£100) bribe.

Untroubled by the rigging of the contest, we focus instead on the misuse of ‘incidence’, which means ‘rate of occurrence’. The Times author meant ‘instance’, ‘incident’ or ‘occurrence’. Bet those meticulous ancient legal scribes wouldn’t have made such a blunder!

By the way, have you a little Greek (the language, we mean)? If so, you could help decipher the Oxyrhyncus fragments through So far, figuring out 6,000 fragments has taken scholars a mere 115 years, and it’s hoped some amateur involvement will speed things up. (The Times, 10 Feb 2016)

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