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The Romans were wonderful engineers. They built their first aqueduct 300 years before Christ.

By AD 100 there were 10 aqueducts bringing into Ancient Rome 250m gallons each day; more than is used by modern Rome.

This was supplied to the public baths lavatories and the homes of the rich.

But it was not connected to the flats. The flat dwellers, therefore, had to go to the public fountains for water. So the flats on the upper floors became incredibly dirty.

All rubbish and filth either piled up in the flats or had to be thrown out of the high windows into the stairwells below.


Dirty, crowded, inconvenient, the flats were also cold places. The only form of heating was by brazier and there was rarely any glass in the windows. Curtains or shutters were used to keep out the cold and wet.


Some emperors made attempts to keep things under control.

The Emperor Augustus introduced the first town planning regulation. He tried to restrict the height of blocks to 7 storeys. Another emperor made a second attempt 100 years later. Even Nero, after Rome had burned, tried to plan the layout of the streets.


The attempts at improvement were futile. Much more significant were the activities of the profiteers.

There was money to be made from flats. They were built quickly. The foundations were inadequate. They often fell down. One writer claimed that Rome was filled with .the sound of collapsing blocks.


And the blocks were liable to catch fire quickly.

One speculator in old Rome makes all our modern property tycoons look like novices. He was Marcus Crassus - the general who crucified the thousands of slave rebels led by Spartacus.

He started the first fire brigade. But he would only allow his men to tackle a fire after he had negotiated a deal with the owners. In this way he bought fire damaged blocks cheap and soon he owned much of the city.

Crassus then branched out. He cornered the building trade and had a virtual monopoly on carrying out repairs.

No wonder he became a millionaire several times over with silver mines in Greece and quarries in Italy.


Rome saw the birth of the first urban proletariat. A huge, dangerous mob of people - many of them unemployed and underemployed.

It was the huge number of slaves who did most of the work. Something had to be done to keep the minds of the idle Romans off their abominable living conditions.