A Partly Truthful Chronicle of the Evolution of Property
700,000 Years Ago
In the beginning was the word, and the word was caves!
Around 700,000 years ago people migrated from what was Europe to Britain. Unlike today when you have to come in a dinghy with 30 others, with the ever present threat of drowning, the two landmasses were connected by a land bridge. The earliest stone tools were found and dated from this period on the Suffolk coast.
Stone Age man continued to migrate across this land bridge until approximately 8,500 years ago, following an historic referendum as to whether they should leave Europe or not. The leavers won easily as they were assisted by melting ice which drowned the bridge and formed the English Channel.
Life was harsh as mammoths, rhinos, tigers, bears and giant beavers all shared the habitat whilst there were no Subways, Greggs or Costa Coffee. Even Amazon deliveries were non- existent due to the first national driver shortage as no one had yet learnt to drive. By 12000 BC Homo Sapiens had all but replaced Neanderthal man, except on certain football club terraces or Weatherspoon’s on a Friday night.
During this extended time period most family groupings were hunter / gatherers which meant they drifted around following game herds or seeking natural vegetables and greenery. So, no permanent homes.
Yet, there is evidence that some did stay put in caves. Paintings were found in the Altamira Cave in Spain, believed to be 35,600 years old. These were ochre and charcoal images of handprints, bison and horses. You can imagine the conversation between husband and wife 35,000 years ago in their chosen cave,
Wife to husband, “Our cave is so boring. Can we at least put up some curtains around the window darling?”
Annoyed her husband puts down his latest copy of Which Flintstone to reply, “Sweetie, windows have not been invented yet. You have a sabre tooth rug, what more do we need?”
“The neighbours have art on their walls.”
“Well they earn more, he works in IT (Iron Tools). Besides, what is art? What is its purpose?”
“No idea, we won’t know for centuries. To me it just looks like marks on the walls.”
Knowing ever since he had dragged her into the cave by her hair fifteen years previous that he was never going to win an argument the husband concedes, “Go ahead. Get some ochre from B & Q (the beach or the quarry) and have a go. However, if we need to move caves when we have more children then you will be responsible for removing it so the estate agent does not down value!”
“Gratitude darling. I’m going to cook you your favourite Brontosaurus steak with wild mushroom sauce this evening.”
Lovely with a bottle of red?”
Sadly for our budding DIY stone people they are in Britain. Wine originated between 6,000-3,000 BC between the Nile and the Persian Gulf, in the territories of modern Iran and Georgia. How exactly man invented wine is unknown but I guess it was done by a married man!
The oldest known cave art in the British Isles was found in Wales. There is an image of a reindeer engraved on the wall of the Cathole Cave on Gower, south Wales. Bristol University had dated this rock art to at least 14,000 years ago – not a Banksy graffiti piece then!
Oddly during this long extended period various lines of humans shed copious hair/fur from across their bodies. Ironically the result was that they needed animal skins and shelter to keep warm and safe – what is given on one hand gets taken away with the other.
Thus those thousands of years were essential in developing the three priorities of human beings:-
Food – a no-brainer
Clothes – essential for survival in nearly all areas of the globe.
Shelter – always required for warmth, safety, procreation and protection for vulnerable off spring.
The big take-way from this is that property, most importantly residential property will always be in broad demand do that is why it has proved such a great long term investment.
As Mark Twain once said: “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.” (except in La Palma!)
As property investors, or potential property investors, worrying about making their first move on a new or first property or raising the funds through creative finance techniques Mark Twain also had some very wise words to apply:-
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one.”
356 BC to 323 BC
Property Development Mindset
Alexander the Great (356 BC to 323 BC)
The first, and arguably the most prolific, property developer in history is none other than Alexander the Great. Best known as a military genius he created an immense empire before dying unfortunately at the young age of 33. After defeating the once invincible Persian Empire his armies cut a broad swath far into India before he returned to die of disease or poison in Babylon in 323. He had planned to make Babylon the capital of his empire but alas he left it too late. The city was famed for its famous hanging gardens, a kind of rich man’s window box.
A brief history of Ancient Greek culture can be expressed as:-
Before Alexander the Great: Kinda nistic.
After Alexander the Great: Hella nistic.
Modern property developer, and former president, Donald Trump has built/refurbished and now owns nine buildings in the city of New York. In comparison Alexander the Great founded or repopulated 20 whole cities across Eurasia – they may have been alike in one sense as Alexander’s ego may well have been of similar proportions to Trump as he named them all, except one, after himself!
The most famous was Alexandria in Egypt. In the circular nature of history this city was where Julius Caesar was introduced to Cleopatra in 48 BC, the last of the Ptolemy line of rulers, when she tried to sell him a second hand carpet. Allegedly, when Julius Caesar first met Cleopatra he declared – “Toga-ether we can rule the world!”
For a long while Alexander the Great’s body was displayed in a crystal casket in Alexandria and was visited by Julius Caesar at that time. The Roman was alleged to have stated that he had taken so long to achieve what he had done, whilst Alexander had conquered the known world in just 32 years of life – a clarion wake-up call to all of us to get on with our investing even if we do not want to conquer the world!
Carpe Diem – seize the day!
Less well known is this city is where the most well-known Roman accidently burnt down the famous Great Library of Alexandria having allegedly fallen asleep whilst enjoying a post coital smoke after bedding the Egyptian seductress. A second, not so well known reason, was that he had a book on the Gallic Wars that was seven weeks overdue!
Returning to Alexander the Great we find that he even founded a city named Bucephala after his war horse, Bucephalus. We might have expected this of Catherine the Great but Alexander?
Anyway, this metropolis lay on the west bank of the Hydaspes river, where modern day Jhelum in Pakistan is situated. This is the equivalent of Trump building a skyscraper where his bullet-proof, armoured car, known as ‘The Beast’, last broke down on the hard shoulder.
In reality, there can be no true comparison between these two developers as Alexander did not have to worry about those annoying planning permits, cost of materials, labour availability, strikes, Mafia protection payments, compulsory purchase order or Melania.
Alexander came, he ordered, it was done!
Like many ancient world dictators he truly was the most powerful ruler of his time rather than just holding the illusionary power of the modern politician. Do not believe that Alexander did all this through altruism. He used these cities to pension off his veterans, and often marry them to locals, which he believed would knit together the extended parts of his empire. To be balanced, from what I have read of Alexander, he believed in equality between all races, but only as long as he was more equal than all others – he thought his line originated from a God so that probably helped mentally to establish his ideas of superiority. I suppose being un-defeated in battle your entire life may have contributed as well.
The Macedonian kings, including Alexander, stated that they descended from Perdiccas, who descended from Temenos, a king of Argos; and he was great-grandchild of Hyllus, the son of Heracles. (Hercules to us, who in turn was a son of Zeus). I am descended myself from the Anemoi, the Greek Gods of wind!
He did the impossible in just a few, short 32 years. The best take away we can learn from him, as property investors, is mind-set. The most powerful saying of Alexander the Great, that we should all have pinned on our bathroom mirrors, is:-
“There is nothing impossible to him who will try.”
305 BC to 30 BC
The Ptolemaic Kingdom
The Single Room Home
Sadly for Alexander his empire broke up immediately upon his death as his close companions fought over the various parts of his empire, all seeking control but many falling by the wayside.
Clear evidence, even 2300 years ago, that you should have asset protection in place by having a Will and Power of Attorney completed at all times.
You may find it interesting to Google Alexander’s last instructions as he was dying. I will not copy them out here as they are too long but the lessons I, and others, have taken from them are:-
Remember, your good health is in your own hands, look after it. Wealth is only meaningful if you can enjoy it while you are alive and kicking. What you do for yourself ceases at the point of death but what you do for others, lives on.
Turning to Egypt, this was seized by Ptolemy I Soter, one of Alexander’s generals, in the year 305 BC, allowing him to form the Ptolemaic Kingdom which lasted, as we mentioned above, until Cleopatra VII in 30 BC.
Ptolemy was rumoured to look like Anthony Hopkins but there is no hard evidence of this although there are many busts in Port Talbot. The Ptolemaic rule was beneficial to the country and established Egypt, with Alexandria, as a significant Mediterranean power based on commerce rather than just military might. The city/port became the major grain exporter/ supplier to other countries in the Inner Sea, particularly to the Roman Empire. Tourists often visited to see the sights including the Great Lighthouse and the body of Alexander the Great in a crystal coffin – how the mighty had fallen!
With regards to property the Ptolemies owned much of the land, and they divided their lands between the temple, soldiers, and other people in service of the Pharaoh (king). The land was controlled by the government which kept strict track of the revenues reaped from the agriculture. The Egyptians were given freedom by the Ptolemies to worship their own gods, and they even built temples to honour native Egyptian gods.
Long before the Greek or Roman conquerors took charge the Egyptians were renowned as great builders. According to plans recently unearthed in Karnak the architectural firm of Edifis & Artifis (nod to Asterix cartoons) the original pyramids were designed as one bed homes for the rich. Sadly the cost of construction made these completely unviable as a product line – the De Lorean of its time. When they could not sell them the Egyptian estate agents said to the builders of these pyramids, “what’s the point?”
The builders may have been supported by their mummies but few others!
Luckily thousands of years later many of us can enjoy their great achievement.
So what do we learn?
You need to build what people can afford, and more importantly, want to buy or rent.
115 BC to 476
Below Market Value
Julius Caesar is the most famous Roman in popular history yet there are other Romans that it is worth investigating.
His mentor in many things from politics, military acumen to real estate investment was Marcus Licinus Crassus, 115 BC to 53 BC. Crassus, despite in his youth having been reduced to living on the seashore in a cave, following the civil wars between the dictator Sulla and Gaius Marius, rose to become the richest man in the world at that time.
He is most remembered in popular culture following his victory over the slave revolt led by Spartacus – in the famous film of the same name he was played by Lawrence Olivier. Crassus was a political and financial mentor to Julius Caesar who, near the end of the republic, created the famous First Triumvirate of Caesar, Crassus and Pompey who ruled the Roman world by influencing the Consuls and Senate by weight of money and martial power.
So how did he create his great wealth?
He was a great believer in buying Below-Markey-Value. As any Asset Academy student knows their instructors emphasise to always try to acquire assets below market value. This allows you a margin of safety on the downside, as well as a locked in profit with potential to release your invested money, by way of refinancing, at a future date.
Crassus had a very unique system of acquisition.
He was already a wealth man by buying up distressed properties on the cheap in Rome, after the civil war, which had been damaged in the conflict. As a judge he also seized estates that were owned by what were deemed traitors, a procedure known in those days as proscriptions. His money continued to circulate, invested in grain futures, silver mines, slaves and gladiator schools. Crassus owned the debts of many senators which forced them to pass legislation beneficial to his interests.
Yet, real estate was always at the heart of his investment portfolio.
In later years, strolling around Rome, he would espy a building he liked. He would make a cheap offer which would most often be declined. A few days later his bully boys would set fire to the building. His intimidators would then refuse to let the city fire brigade through to the blaze until the owners had signed a contract to sell to him at an even cheaper price!
To round it all off, and prevent mistakes, he owned Rome’s fire brigade as well!
I am a great believer in BMV as well as making your money work for you but I do not recommended Crassus’s method – nowadays you will end up in an HMO owned by the Crown.
In a salutary lesson to us all Crassus died whilst leading an invasion of the Parthian Empire trying to match Caesar and Pompey’s military achievements. The Parthians led him into the desert where the heat and lack of water weakened his troops until finally they were destroyed at the battle of Carrhae. This tactic was later used by the great Saladin in 1187 to defeat the Christian armies prior to the Siege of Jerusalem.
Crassus was captured, whilst his son was killed. He was paraded around the Parthian Empire in a cage to show how weak Roman forces actually were. Apparently he kept saying “I’m Spartacus!” but no one was fooled. Eventually he was sentenced to death. Knowing his greed for wealth the Parthians poured molten gold down his throat.
That scene was replicated in the first series of Game of Thrones.
So be careful what you wish for!
A few short decades later the Roman Republic ceased, to be replaced by the Roman Empire following Augustus’s defeat of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (Anthony & Cleopatra) in Egypt during 30 BC.
I am not going to list all the benefits of Roman rule but leave it to the words of the marvellous Monty Python team:-
“What have the Romans ever done for us?”
“The aqueduct, sanitation, new roads, great wines, fermentation, canals, navigation, public health, public baths, lower crime, cheese, medicine, irrigation, law, education, the Circus Maximus, peace…….”
“Yes, well apart from all those what have the Romans ever done for us?”
In Roman law (today as well as in Roman times), both land and movable property could be owned absolutely by individuals. This conception of absolute ownership (dominium) is characteristically Roman, as opposed to the relative idea of ownership as the better right to possession that underlies the Germanic systems and English law.
The Roman Empire was split in two for the final time after the death of Theodosius 1, Roman Emperor in Constantinople. The western half was ruled from Ravenna/Rome whilst the eastern portion was ruled from Constantinople (which became Byzantium then Istanbul). The west quickly fell into decline but the eastern half carried on until 29th May 1453 when the city was stormed by the Ottoman Empire.
Quick question – How do you divide the Roman Empire in two?
Answer – With a pair of Caesars!
To become rich you need to identify, then studiously apply, the lessons of acquiring Below- Market-Properties – always within the current law of the land.
Julius Caesar would add always have a mentor – as following Crassus death he took on the mantle of richest man in the world. This lasted until his untimely death in the Senate house on the 5th March 45 BC.
Sometimes I envy Julius Caesar…….He died surrounded by all of his friends!
476 to 1066
The Dark Ages
Dawn of the HMO
Do you know why they were called the Dark Ages? Because of all the Knights!
Following the fall of the Western Roman Empire everything went in to a tailspin in their former territories. Much of what had been achieved, listed above, was lost or deteriorated beyond repair.
Firstly the water supply company, ‘Taps Romana” was not paid so basically no one bathed for roughly the next six hundred years. Buildings took a backward evolutionary step as well. From palatial villas with underfloor heating in well laid out streets most of the population devolved into small villages and hamlets full of huts.
These buildings were built of timber, mud, woven willow often covered by turf roofs. As single room premises they had to hold a whole family as well as a collection of livestock, including cows and goats. These became the first HMOs – Humans & Mammal Operations. A later addition was the outhouse which allowed people to leave the stink of the interior to sit outside for a while in fresh air before the inevitable happened.
In Scandinavia they had one extra room – the sauna. This was where the Vikings went to sweat out all the fish oil they had consumed in their diet as well as having a place to have sex until the late 1970s. The sauna seemed to provide a good excuse for them to thrash each other with birch sticks whilst naked!
As they said in the Full Monty – ‘There’s ‘nowt so’ queer as folk!’
Property law was very simple in those days – whoever wielded the biggest, most successful sword was the owner.
Next we arrive at 1066 – an exciting era for the evolving property market.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART TWO –