The Earliest Self Storage Facility

9 September 2014 by
Photo Credit: ancama_99(toni) via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ancama_99(toni) via Compfight cc

Prehistoric man had no need for self-storage, as everything he brought into his cave was either eaten or worn. In fact, their under-furnished caves gave rise to first home improvement project known as cave painting. It wasn’t until the rise of the Roman Empire that people began to feel a bit cramped. All those statues needed to be dusted regularly, and if you didn’t like your in-laws, you got a nasty shock every time you walked into the bath and saw your father-in-law lurking in the shadows. Scrolls of papyrus covered the tabletops, wine barrels took up valuable floor space, and soiled tunics were carelessly strewn about.

“I don’t care what you do with that stuff. I just want it out of here!”

With those immortal words, an industry was born.

The Storage Needs of a Growing Empire

Everywhere you looked, affluent Romans were busy remodeling, building aqueducts and baths, sporting arenas and sewers, tenements and villas. Walk around the Forum on any given day and you could hear people complaining about how hard it was to find a good contractor to install your pool: “All we wanted was a slave who could design an atrium without screaming every time we whipped him.” [1]

Finding a place to put your business-casual togas and stash of designer Corinthian columns was important while this work was going on. When you sold your second daughter into slavery, you had to find a place to put her papyrus diary scrolls and mosaics of her favorite popular musical ensembles so you could convert her bedroom into a steam room. And you definitely wanted a place to stash the jewelry you bought for those cuties at the bath house. [2]

In the heyday of the Empire, chariots were constantly bringing back junk that no one wanted from the territories–scarabs and papyrus rolls, poorly-wrought columns pilfered from some island north of Gaul, crude funeral pyres, ugly statues of birds and dogs. They wound up putting it in storage because “you never know when that might come in handy.”

And of course, while you were between military campaigns, there was a critical need for the self-storage of weaponry and torture devices that would otherwise be a nuisance in the home. Not every Roman had a villa, after all. You try living in a starter tenement with a bunch of crucifixes in the corner of the living room. Enhanced interrogation does not fold easily. Self storage units increasingly were the answer.

But between the soldiers being called away to battle, typical youthful pranks, and the generally shoddy construction of low-end buildings in the ancient city, self storage units were beset by numerous challenges. Fire was definitely a risk (ever carried an oil lamp after you’ve downed an entire urn of wine?) and theft was also a problem.

The Romans certainly could have used security cameras, not to mention climate control. People were dumping their crap in the streets, literally, and furniture stored in those ground floor units didn’t come out smelling so good.

The World’s Largest Self-Storage Facility

It wasn’t just the ordinary citizens of Rome who needed to find a solution for all their clutter. The Roman Empire as a whole was feeling the strain. A conquering people collect all sorts of riff raff: Christians, Greeks, Visigoths, Phoenicians, Maccabees, Egyptians, and too many tribes of Celts to keep track of. Suppressing, pretending to negotiate with, and enslaving so many different cultures is a headache. [3]

It took a couple centuries of trial and error, but finally the ancient Romans found a way to contain their growing hoards of loot (disruptive colonists, prisoners of war, slaves that couldn’t be trusted, rowdy women, lions, etc.). The Romans kept them out of everybody’s hair by storing them in a grand storage facility, that we moderns mistakenly know as the Colosseum of Rome, and local residents came out periodically to watch the lucky “contestants” battle to the death. Trust the Romans to find this inventive solution to decluttering.[4]

Locked up in storage facilities located throughout the Empire, forgotten by their families and entire civilizations, gladiators waited with trembling legs for the moment when they would emerge from hidden chambers below the amphitheatre floor to do battle. Though they never knew if they would be ripped to shreds by wild animals, burnt on a pyre, or run through by a trident, it sure as heck beat living in a crowded bachelor tenement with five other guys who just couldn’t remember to pick up their sandals. [5] On the whole, though, being a gladiator was a pretty short career. And the pension was terrible.

A Word of Advice

Roman civilization, as everyone knows, is a cautionary tale. While citizens were punishing slaves for not being able to find a mosaic that matched the color of a peacock feather, and emperors found ever-more entertaining ways to dispose of infidels, the Germanic people were kicking back in front of the fire and waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

The moral of the story is this: self-storage is a tremendous resource with many uses, but beware of making your storage unit the repository for the things you don’t know what else to do with. Those renegade possessions will come back to haunt you, like the story of Aurelius Fulvius who finally opened his self-storage unit years later and found himself face-to-face with the not-so-dead-as-it-turned-out lion he’d done battle with and kept as a souvenir.

Know your stuff, and know your storage needs. That’s the proper way to keep your empire running smoothly.







SSF Team

SSF Team

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