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Rental Inspections and Lead Inspections in Ancient Rome

Rental Inspections and Lead Inspections in Ancient Rome

Landlords in Ancient Rome were not required to obtain a Rental License (unlike rental owners in Baltimore County).  Nor were they required to register their rental properties with MDE (Maryland Department of the Environment) as they are in Maryland.  Scientists believe the main reason is that Ancient Rome was an empire that ended 1,600 years ago, whereas Maryland is a state in the United States today.

Lead based paint was banned in the United States 1978, although it had already been banned in Baltimore since 1950.  If you own a rental property in Maryland built before 1978 you are required to get a new lead certificate each time you change tenants.  If you own a rental home in Baltimore County you are required to renew your Baltimore County Rental License every three years (which requires a rental inspection by a licensed home inspector such as Neal Williams of Central Inspections, LLC).

Lead poisoning is caused by increased levels of lead in the body, which is toxic to many organs and tissues, including the heart, bones and kidneys.  Some historians have argued that lead poisoning killed off many elite Romans that drank water carried to their homes by a network of lead pipes.

    
  
 
 
  
    
  
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  Experts say elite Romans, pictured in this marble relief, drank a lot of lead in their water.

Experts say elite Romans, pictured in this marble relief, drank a lot of lead in their water.

In a 1983 article in the New England Journal of Medicine, Jerome Nriagu, a geochemist, argued that "lead poisoning contributed to the decline of the Roman empire."

His work centered on the fact that the Romans had few sweeteners besides honey and often boiled freshly squeezed grape juice into a sugary syrup known as defrutum or sapa in lead pots.  Another source of lead was drinking water carried in lead pipes and used for bathing in municipal baths.

Lead poisoning is a serious risk today – especially for young children.  The main cause is lead-based paint.  Children ingest the lead in the form of dust.  But lead pipes also still exist in older homes in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and throughout Maryland.

Other studies confirmed that a significant source of lead poisoning in Ancient Rome was the practice of making this sugary syrup, which was commonly used as a sweet condiment for lavish meals and a preservative for wine and fruit. An incidental product of doing this in lead vessels was “sugar of lead” which sweetened the syrup even further.

However, more recent studies, contradict this theory.

In a 2014 study, scientists took samples of sediment from the harbor basin at Portus, which was a port in imperial Rome and from a channel of the River Tiber.  They analyzed the lead content and said that while there was lead contamination, the levels were unlikely high enough to be harmful, ruling out tap water as a major culprit in Rome's demise.

    
  
 
 
  
    
  
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  The Romans used lead piping (pictured here) to carry water to their homes.

The Romans used lead piping (pictured here) to carry water to their homes.

Perhaps the reason historians scoffed at this theory by their peers is that it’s a singular monocausal theory to explain the fall of Rome.

It seems plausible that the high concentrations of lead in water, food and wine (since Romans even loved the taste of lead) could have led to many problems: infertility in some, illness in the best and brightest and possibly Caligula's madness.

But to blame the fall of Rome solely on lead poisoning is no better than blaming it exclusively on the Vandals taking North Africa, Christian infighting, the Huns, rampant inflation, the drying up of the Spanish silver mines, political instability, roaming Germanic tribes, the decline of Romans joining the Army, a Roman government that the people no longer believed in or even the change of climate.  There is strong evidence to suggest that all of this happened, and things often collapse in complicated ways.

The Ancient Romans did not have computers so they were unable to register their properties online with Baltimore County and the State of Maryland.  Landlords today have that option.  They can also call or email Central Inspections to help with this process and answer any questions you may have.