People Have Been Trying To Reduce Their Utility Bills For Millennia

Private access to water in ancient Rome was expensive. Homeowners who could afford running water paid for it based on the diameter of their access pipe. Unsurprisingly, people cheated. They often installed larger pipes than what had been paid for. This scam prompted the invention of the “calix” – a sleeved pipe which was put into the wall not by the homeowners, and which was decorated to prevent forgeries or alterations. Despite the calixes, crafty Romans still found a way to get their water cheaper. Some tried to steal water from the aqueducts directly, siphoning it off themselves or bribing the aquarii (specialized aqueduct workers) to siphon off water for them. All these practices were known as “fraus aquariorum” or plumbing fraud.


January 24th 41 AD: Caligula killed

On this day in 41 AD, the Roman Emperor Caligula was assassinated by his guard in Rome. Born in Italy in 12 AD as Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, he is today known by his nickname Caligula, or ‘Little Boot’. The name was given to him by Roman soldiers on the German frontier when he was a young boy, owing to his footwear. After his parents were killed by imperial forces, Caligula was adopted by his great uncle, Emperor Tiberius; he became the third Roman emperor upon Tiberius’s death in 37 AD. With the support of the army he quickly moved to eradicate any challenges to his reign, having Tiberius’s grandson and rival heir executed. As emperor, Caligula lavished Rome with grand games and building projects. However, he soon became despised for his increasing megalomania and apparent insanity, which stemmed from an illness early in his reign. He supposedly tried to humiliate the Senate by making his favourite horse, Incitatus, a senator. Caligula also reversed previous imperial trend by actively encouraging worship of himself as a god. His reign was also brutal in its vicious treason trials and frequent executions of dissenters; he even made it a capital offence to mention a goat in the presence of the very hairy Caligula. Caligula had imperial aspirations, and undertook military campaigns in Germany and planned one to Britain. In 41 AD, after a four year reign, the increasingly unpopular Caligula was assassinated aged 29 by his own bodyguards. He was succeeded by his uncle Claudius, who proved a much more even-tempered and moderate leader.

Mausoleum of Augustus to be Restored

After decades of neglect, the Mausoleum of Augustus is to be brought alive with a spectacular multimedia experience projected onto its 2,000-year-old walls. An Italian telecommunications company has contributed six million euros for its restoration, with its director promising an elaborate multimedia show that will tell the story of Augustus and ancient Rome.

Mausoleum of Augustus was built in 28 BCE and housed the remains of Emperor Augustus and the rest of the Julio-Claudian family. The building once stood around 120ft high and had a diameter of nearly 300ft. It was topped by a 15ft-tall bronze statue of Augustus. It was converted into a fortress in the Middle Ages and then a bull-fighting ring in the 18th century. It was finally made into a concert hall in the early 20th century before Mussolini ordered all modern additions to be stripped away, in a bid to associate himself with the greatness of Rome’s first emperor, whom he hoped to emulate. Previous efforts to restore the massive tomb have foundered over the years on bureaucracy, inter-departmental squabbling and lack of funding.

Today’s fun fact:

The term “Byzantine Empire” was coined in the 18th century so that historians could draw a clearer distinction between Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The Byzantines themselves kept calling their state the Eastern Roman Empire right up to 1453, and the people of mainland Greece were still calling themselves Romans during the First Balkan War in the 20th century.