This story hides a secret to productivity. And it may also be one of the best examples of fiscal responsibility in the history of western civilization.
If you’re ever in Rome, you’ll probably (hopefully) visit the ruins of the Roman Forum.
There, you’ll see a well-preserved temple dedicated to Antoninus Pius and his wife Faustina. Near the top of the temple you’ll see two lines inscribed in travertine marble:
Divo Antonino et
Divae Faustinae Ex S.C.
The story goes that the emperor, Antoninus Pius, deeply loved his wife. When she died, he asked the Senate to make her a goddess, and he built a lavish temple in her honor.
He spared no expense. You can still see the marks left on the pillars by looters who tried to steal the rare cippoline marble.
But they couldn't tear the building down.
In fact, the temple was built so well that it survived through the centuries and was even made into a church. The church was dedicated to San Lorenzo, who may have been martyred on the alter at the base of the temple.
But I'm getting off topic.
On the front of the temple, Antoninus Pius carved the first dedication, “Divae Faustinae Ex S.C.” This means “The Goddess Faustina by Senatorial Decree.”
Some years later, when Antoninus passed away, the Senate was left with the burden of making him a god just like his wife. Her temple had been costly, and the emperor’s own temple would have to be its equal or better.
But then someone had a brilliant idea.
Instead of building a new temple, they simply added a new inscription above the old one: “Divo Antonino et.” The translation: “The God Antoninus and.”
Now the full inscription read:
The God Antoninus and
The Goddess Faustina by Senatorial Decree
The immortal emperor and empress are together for all eternity, while the Roman taxpayers were spared the cost of shiploads of marble and thousands of man-hours of labor. Everyone was happy, except the family who owned the marble quarries.
Build your house with bricks
There’s a lesson here, and it’s not about finding ways to cheap out.
If the Romans had build Faustina a cheap temple, Antoninus would have required a new, better temple.
In other words, this money-saving trick never could have worked if the original temple hadn’t been built as well as it was.
So, the real lesson: If you do something really well, it’s easily worth twice as much as if you do an “okay” job. Spend more time, money, effort up front and you’ll ultimately get twice as much done in half the time at half the price.
Whatever you do in 2018, challenge yourself to make it bigger and better than it needs to be.