Salt is something most of us have probably taken for granted during our lifetimes, but that wasn't always the case. In ancient times, salt was "white gold" - and the production and trade of salt could make or break an empire. Here are five fascinating facts about salt!
Salt Mining is Prehistoric: The oldest salt mine we know of today sits inside a mountain in present-day Austria. The Hallstatt Salt Mine dates back over 7,000 years and was an essential source of salt during the Bronze Age. The mine's discovery revealed ancient mining techniques and provided valuable information about the significance of salt in early human societies. Tunnels were dug 200 meters into the mountain, with staircases built to bring the salt back out to the surface. A nearly 3,000 year old wooden staircase still survives inside this mine!
Salted Mummies Forever: Salt played a crucial role in ancient Egyptian mummification practices. Natron, a naturally occurring mixture of salts, including sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate, was used to dehydrate and preserve the bodies of the deceased. This ensured the long-lasting preservation of the pharaohs and nobles so that, they believed, the body could endure long into the afterlife.
Pre-Refrigeration Preservation: For most of human civilization, we have figured out a way to preserve our food without refrigerators. This was primarily done with either ice, or salt. As a result, salt has been a highly prized commodity for everyone from ancient empires to indigenous cultures around the world. Salt allowed people to store surplus food, ensuring a stable food supply during times of scarcity. This ability to preserve food effectively contributed to the accumulation of wealth and communal stability when food proved hard to find.
Trade Routes on Salt Roads: Not actually roads made of salt, the trade routes on which salt was transported over long distances came to be known as "salt roads." These routes, such as the Via Salaria in ancient Rome, facilitated the exchange of salt and other valuable commodities, contributing to the growth of civilizations and fostering cultural interactions. (We'll get to the root of that name in a moment.) Salt Roads were ubiquitous in ancient times, in multiple places across Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Salt as SALary: In various ancient civilizations, salt held significant value and was used as a form of currency. The Latin word for salt, sal, is a root of the word "salarium," which referred to the allowance of salt given to Roman soldiers. It highlights the importance and high worth of salt in those times.This, in turn, eventually became our English word for payment, "salary." So you could say that our entire concept of currency is originally based...on salt?