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Ancient Arch Shows Even Romans Had Bad Workmanship

January 19, 1986|United Press International

PALO ALTO — Cutting corners to get the job done faster or cheaper is not a modern phenomenon. The Romans, for one, had the same problem.

The Isthmia Arch, a monumental structure probably built to honor Emperor Nero when he went to the games in Greece in AD 67, has been found to have some fudging in its workmanship.

An archeological team studying the arch discovered that the carving of the stones was less elaborate, with less skill and time required, on the side that would not have been seen by the emperor.

"The sculpting of the stones changes pattern as it goes around the corner," said Harrianne Mills, an archeologist and classics professor on the faculty of Kenyon College, Ohio.

She discussed the arch in a recent lecture at Stanford University.

'Very Simple and Plain'

"It's almost like they were in a hurry to get it up. There is no sculpture on it. It is very simple and plain," Mills said.

Her associate in analyzing the arch, Prof. Timothy Gregory of Ohio State University, suggested that the imperial builders "may have been trying to cut corners.

"They simply made fewer details on one side than on the other. It would take less time and save money. It might have been cheating. They were building it for the emperor. The empire was a bureaucracy and the engineers of antiquity might have been tempted to cheat on small things."

Gregory said the structure "was a symbolic monument like the Statue of Liberty or the St. Louis Arch. It was there to be seen. It was built there to commemorate the greatness of the Roman empire.

"It was on the main north-south road through Greece. Everyone going to the sanctuary of Poseidon would notice it. We know it was a big deal. But the emperor may have been cheated by his builders."

Nevertheless, Mills said, "it is quite exciting in itself to find a Roman arch there at the gates to the Peloponnesus. There aren't that many Roman arches in Greece, and this one had been entirely forgotten."

Mills speculated that the arch was built to honor Nero when he went to Isthmia to attend the games and to proclaim freedom for the Greeks.

"It is in a place that naturally leads from the seaport towards the temple and sanctuary," she said.

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