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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 August, 2004, 01:08 GMT 02:08 UK
Roman star 'won it like Beckham'
David Beckham
Asklepiades was compared to England hero Beckham
The exploits of a Roman sporting hero made him the "David Beckham of his day", according to an academic.

Dr Jason Konig, of the University of St Andrews, has shed new light on a second century AD athlete called Marcus Aurelius Asklepiades.

Asklepiades was the sporting superstar of his era and, like Beckham, his every move was reported by the media.

The discovery of a series of inscribed stones showed that Asklepiades won every contest he entered.

The records studied by Dr Konig were discovered in Rome more than 100 years ago.

This athlete would have been a Mediterranean-wide celebrity, very much the David Beckham of his day
Dr Jason Konig
University of St Andrews
But they also contain a warning in history for the 29-year-old Real Madrid and England football star.

Asklepiades retired early at 25 - after experiencing the more fickle side of his celebrity status.

Although it is not known why he chose to end his career, it is thought he could have become embroiled in a scandal.

Dr Konig, who has written a book on the history of sport in ancient Greece, said: "Asklepiades is the perfect example of how the ancient world had huge sporting stars.

"This athlete would have been a Mediterranean-wide celebrity, very much the David Beckham of his day, and was famous both as a sportsman and later as a politician of sorts.

Wrestler and boxer

"Images of Asklepiades would have been plastered all over the Mediterranean world - statues to honour him for his victories, mosaics and paintings."

The son of a wealthy former athlete, Asklepiades was a pankratiast - the term given to an athlete who competed in the pankration, a mixture of wrestling and boxing.

Dr Konig said Asklepiades eventually became more famous with the masses than any of the poets and philosophers whose work has survived today.

The Coliseum
The sporting records were discovered in Rome
"In those days, sport was just as important, just as popular as it is today and even more hotly debated," he said.

Asklepiades boasted that many of his opponents withdrew from competition in terror when they saw him preparing for action.

However, Dr Konig said the reasons for his retirement at a young age were mysteriously unclear.

He said: "It was possibly some kind of scandal, perhaps accusations of cheating, which would explain why he didn't mention anything specific.

"However, it may have been due to threats and intimidation from rivals as there was a lot at stake, in a sport which could bring so much fame and riches.

"Or perhaps he simply didn't have the energy to carry on."

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