It is fair to say that our biological dependence on salt has shaped our history. Wars have been waged and cities built and destroyed near its veins and waters. The Roman armies were paid in salt (where the word “salary” was derived from) and it was the Basques’ discovery in the 11th century that salt-cured cod lasted longer, which allowed them to sail further from port to discover new lands.
Salt was in general use long before the beginning of recorded history and formed the backbones of early economies in Egypt, Greece, China and Rome. The Romans were the ones who were able to truly exploit the processing of salt and the subsequent trade in a worldwide network.
In Medieval Europe salt was also of significance – Venice rose to economic greatness through its salt monopoly. Indeed, most European countries have at some stage relied on salt – the production of salt gave rise to new cities and the construction of roads – for example Salzburg which is literally ‘the city of salt’. Salt even played a role in the American Revolution – part of the British strategy was to deny the American rebels access to salt.
In addition to building nations, salt has also played a role in:
- Warfare - thousands of Napoleon’s troops died during the French retreat from Moscow due to salt deficiencies
- Economics - one of the first known taxes was a salt tax in China
- Mythological - many believe salt sprinkled on spilled oil will drive away and exorcise evil spirits
- Religion - there are over 30 references to salt in the Bible, including the well-known expression “salt of the earth”
The history of salt is unique and extensive. It is fair to say that the humble grain of salt has left its indelible mark across the globe and has profoundly affected human life.