Thursday, 15 November 2012

Going up...getting cheaper

In this day and age of high-rise penthouses and glassed urban panoramas we're pretty used to the idea of paying more for the loftiest floors in an apartment block - of course, we can thank elevators for that. But in the days when shoe-leather was the only thing to keep you upwardly mobile, the higher floors in multi-storey buildings were almost always the cheapest. Case in point was Rome, probably the world's second high-rise city after Carthage. Eight-storey apartment blocks were common, and they weren't class exclusive - anyone who couldn't afford a villa ended up in them - one such tenant was the future 1st-century BC Dictator, L.C.Sulla, who was just another face in the crowd in his younger years. And this is where a story comes to us from Plutarch, painting a picture of inner city expense for the middle income earners. Having come to power after a bloody partisan conflict, Sulla was in the throws of having many of his political enemies and adherents (the Marian Populists) executed, when one marked man, a former slave, complained to the Dictator that not so many years before they'd rented in the same apartments. Sulla, the young aristocrat could afford the 3000-sesterces (that's about $1440/week) to live downstairs, while the slave was living on the floor above for 2000-sesterces ($961/week). The man's point was that once only 1000-sesterces had separated them so how about a bit of leniency. Whether the point was taken or not, we don't know...Sulla was the kind of autocrat who dealt out cruelty and kindness in equal measures, and usually only on a whim. It's a fifty-fifty whether the unfortunate ex-neighbour's fast talking got him off the hook.

Find out what floor Calvus lived on

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