Salt used to be a form of currency

Just the basics

  • Salt is an essential part of the human and animal diet
  • It plays an important role in many different rituals
  • In many cultures it is customary to offer guests bread and salt
  • It was expensive to acquire and was as valuable as gold
  • In Ancient Greece it was common to trade slaves for salt
  • Roman soldiers used to be paid in salt rations
  • To this day tribes in Ethiopia still use salt as a form of payment
  • In Ancient Greece it was common to trade slaves for salt

Bread and salt

Salt has been an important part of human life, long before the first societies were created, or the first pieces of history were even recorded. It is essential for our, as well as many animals’ diet, but throughout the centuries it has been used for so much more. It has always been associated with purity and plays an important role in many cleansing rituals and religions. In many cultures it is still customary to offer guests bread and salt as a form of welcome and it was custom, that no harm would come to a guest who was formally greeted.

The white gold

But probably its most important use was as money and it made the backbone of many economies. In ancient times its production was cumbersome and quite expensive. First a source of saltwater was required, and then some sort of mechanism to let it evaporate and extract the precious mineral within it. It became so valuable, that at times it was worth as much as gold. In Ancient Greece it was common practice to trade slaves for it, which gave meaning to the expression “not even worth his salt”.

Pay day

Throughout the Roman Empire soldiers were paid using salt rations, known as “salarium argentum”. A remnant of this can be still found in the word “salary”. Traces of the Latin “sal” can still be found in many other languages, primarily in words associated with food, like “sausage”, “sauce” or even “salad”. Incredibly, even today it is still used as money among the nomadic tribes of Ethiopia's Danakil Plains.

The oldest city in Europe

Solnitsata, which literally translates to “the saltern”, is believed to be the oldest town in Europe. It was an ancient town, located near the Black Sea in present day Bulgaria and it was the site of a salt production facility around 6 millennia ago. The town supplied salt throughout the Balkans, which drove the regions economy and may explain the large amount of gold objects, discovered in the area.

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