Los­ing their El­gin mar­bles

The an­cient Greek white van man made a hash of build­ing the Acrop­o­lis, writes Adrian Mur­doch

The Herald Business - - Lessons From History -

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.

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