Losing their Elgin marbles
The ancient Greek white van man made a hash of building the Acropolis, writes Adrian Murdoch
TODAY we bridle at large building projects that go wrong. But take heart – it was ever thus as the ancient Greeks proved so spectacularly with their botched attempts to build the Parthenon on the Acropolis. A building estimate dating to 450-449 BC by the eventual boss of the project, the great statesman and general Pericles, suggested a bill of 5,000 talents for the building and a bit of sprucing up of the surrounding area too. It was as plausible as the £10-40m mooted in September 1997 for the new Scottish Parliament. Have we learned any of the following lessons about project management? Probably not.
1) Large-scale projects never finish on time
Classical Greece had its equivalent of white van man, quietly sucking his teeth, tapping a pencil and muttering that he couldn’t get the parts. Even after a decade of construction, many buildings on the Acropolis remained half-built. Not only was it left unfinished; the builders didn’t tidy up either. One section of the entrance to the Acropolis still shows the bosses that were used to lift blocks into place that no one quite got around to moving.
2) It always costs more than you think...
The main reason that the Parthenon was never finished is that the project ran out of money. Its f inal cost is still a subject of debate. Questions were raised about a missing 8,000 talents and many of the 3,000 builders involved ended up subsidising the work themselves. The one drachma a day payment for skilled labour, was more of an honorarium than a salary. To work on such a project was seen as a civic and religious duty.
3) … especially if you change the designs
Everyone knows the feeling. You ask a contractor to move a plug a foot to the left and you end up with £100 charge on your bill. Imagine what happens when your plans include a massive statue of Athena with 1,200kg gold decoration. To be fair, the sculptor Pheidias – Pericles’ number two and his project manager – has gone down in history as one of the greatest artists of all time and his statue was one of the wonders of the world.
4 ) If you are the boss you can get away with anything…
Almost 10 years into the project, in the winter of 430, Pericles was impeached after the opposition accused him of letting costs run out of control. The subsequent inquiry was a whitewash that modern politicians can only fantasise about. Not only did Athens’ answer to Teflon Bill soon find himself back in office; he ended up having his accuser banished.
5) … if you’re not, you can’t
Pericles might have been give the all-clear, but his number two seems to have carried the can. Pheidias too was accused of theft. Although he too was acquitted on this charge, he subsequently left Athens and went to work in Olympia. There he seems to have been indicted for embezzlement and this time the charges stuck. He had his hands cut off.