All Via Salarium lead . .           to Rome !

The Romans abroad seemed to have concentrated their infrastructures near salt sources or on salt routes between those sites and Rome [Via Salaria],  This should dictate that we  examine more closely the importance of salt  to the Romans.      A beginning might be made with the port of Ostia.    When Roman rule founded the city at the mouth of the Tiber, Ostia had already been in existence primarily to guarantee the supply of salt, from its coastal salt beds, which stretched along the flat coastal expanses and which were filled with brine at every tide.




"Ancius Marcus rex .....salinas primus instituit"

After driving the Veietines from the salt-beds on the north bank of the Tiber, Ancus Marcus took control of the Tiber estuary, and the coastal plain. The Salinae Romanae were almost certainly the reason for Ostia's foundation, probably before 400 BC. Indeed, Rome may not have developed without Ostia's salt beds, and following her war with the Etruscans, her prime mission was to defend the shores of Latium.This was accomplished by the establishment of the maritime colonies, of Antium, Anxur, Minturnae, Sinuessa, and Pyrgi. So important were the saltbeds to Rome. Only later did these maritime colonies pave the way to Roman sea power. With the increasingly apparent inundation of the saltbeds and the port, new sites were developed further inland, to handle the increasing quantities of salt products such as Garum , and other salt preserved commodities required by an expanding Rome population


some COMPETITIVE SALT PORTS     [assumed destroyed by ROMANS]
 Phalasarna  - Lechaeon (Lechaion and Lechćum) - Cenchreć


As the sea level of the Mediterranean rose, the salt beds of Ostia and others, flooded and within a short period stopped producing salt. Vain attempts to move the beds inland  met with difficulty in finding the vast flat areas needed for evaporation, combined with the requirement that the small sea tide would intermittently fill the pans. The port of Rome, Ostia, was moved inland at least three times, leaving historians with the evidence of this sea level rise. The archaeological evidence of this sea rise can also be seen at other port sites around the Mediterranean where at the original construction [at the height of the ancient Greek and Phoenician civilizations] is still submerged indicating that they were built when  the sea level was still lower than the present day level.   Others clearly coping with the rising sealevel by building interior basins to suppliment the main harbours were able to continue operation provided they did not compete with Roman salt and salt products supply and logistics directed to Rome.

 Leptis Magna , a polygonal port in North Africa, was built at the time of Trajan to handle the salt supplies from north Africa: it is now landlocked . [similar to the 'Portus' at Roman Ostia, ] and Like Mount Cassius, on the Sinai coast, and Ephesus in Turkey - these ports suffered from the erratic sea level changes. 

Ostia portus air photo The Rome port of Trajan, hexagonal and well preserved is now high enough above the surrounding fields to serve as a 'gravity' feed tank or reservoir, for fresh water, which is now lifted from the Little Tiber [some 3 meters]. The area north of the port is now the Rome airfield of Fiumicino. The Portus lies  above present day sea level and is used to irrigate the surrounding farmland from water pumped into it. The Trajan port was built to handle the considerable salted imports from Asia Minor, Spain  and North Africa previously handled by the temporarily flooded facilities. 

phalasarna sea levels of port

Phalasarna like most of the other harbours was finally completed with the addition of an interior harbour basin to cater for the catastrophic rise in sea level, and like those other harbours the basin is now well above present day sealevels and completly dried out.   Those harbours lacking  the natural secondary basin that allowed continued operation even at the high watermark, becme flooded and were left to decay, until the sea again receded.   Many were thought to have been destroyed either by the Romans or by a mistaken tectonic event.

 The Roman port of Ephesus [the quay] is presently more than 3m above sealevel. At a time when salt was almost impossible to produce at home at the traditional sites of Ostia, and Aquilea, supplies from the TATTA [Tuz Golu] salt lake in Central Anatolia were 'exported' through the 'salt' ports of Ephesus, Halicarnasus,  Miletus, and others. Today with the sea level returned to a more modest 2m below the peak at approx. 400AD, they are some kilometers inland. [note: The typical explanation of  'silting' of these ports is probably correct - but 'silting' can only occur where the liquid [sea] level is over and above the  area where silting occurs


CAESARIA Herod's salt export outlet, was one of the most elegant and richest in the east Mediterranean -
The Romans bought their salt from Herod, and only after Herod's death did they have to force their needs from an un-united and quarreling [Jewish] population.
ROMARCH discussion - The port of Rome - Ostia, was moved inland at least three times because of a rising eustatic Mediterranean sealevel
Ostia, was first and foremost, Rome's salt producing 'officiana' [probably before it became Rome's port] and the salt beds [pans] soon became flooded. - forcing Rome to look elsewhere for their salt.
CAESARIA01.GIF (80626 bytes)  


In the ancient port Caesarea, south of Haifa, stands a wall which must have been built between the time of Herod and the 2nd century. . The top of this wall, now 1.50 m above the present sea level, is perforated with the typical holes made by the Lithophaga






The period of Roman occupation which opened up the Fens to salt making, began around 80 AD. possibly as a direct result of flood difficulties back at home in Ostia and Ravenna. The population, described as having 'rocketed' in growth by mid 2nd century, was working as many farms as there are existing today.

By the  time the Romans left in 450 AD. [perhaps for the same reason] the sea, had risen , causing flooding even here , but earlier in 50 AD. -the huge Wash embayment, much larger than today, had allowed reducing the inland waterlogging, making it possible to reclaim more ground for settlement around the edges of the Fen and on the 'islands' .. It seems likely that this newly deposited territory was Crown land leased out under a procurator to Romano- British groups of smallholders working mixed farming and industrial settlements and that many of these sites were making salt. Successful live-stock raising would have been important for leather equipment such as shields, tents and harness foraquileaportus.gif (168843 bytes) some of the 2,000 horses that Julius Caesar brought with him, and a salt industry was needed for tanning the hides and to preserve meat . The fishing fraternity too, required salt to preserve the catch, and used brine for garum, the fish sauce so popular with the Romans. It is also probable that salt production was taxed as it was in other Roman colonies. There is no doubt that saltmaking was an important activity at this time; but successful occupation of such low lying country depended upon constant attention to its maintenance: The Romans tried to improve communications and transport by cutting artificial waterways to link rivers and building sea defences.

Aquilea portus

Rising sealevels and extensive, shallow inland flooding during the 4th century AD forced many people to move away and even though there was resettlement later, little was done for drainage or essential maintenance to keep the canals open or repair the sea defences on the siltlands after the Romans left.


Coastal flooding and the continuing rise of the sea level which peaked around 400 AD would have been a contributory factor to diminishing production and the almost complete disappearance of the coastal salt traffic. It may well be possible to correlate, the desertion of the French and British coasts at this time, which lost their salt trading capability,.. and the causes for the the western part of the continent, becoming an under developed area.  Migration seems to have been towards the warmer regions and there were probably many reasons for this movement but it may be no coincidence that the direction it took was to areas where salt was readily available albeit in salt mines and outcrops requiring additional effort for its recovery. This would seem to justify the apparently senseless determination of the Roman emperors Vespasian and Titus to conquer desert strong holds like Masada on the Dead Sea.
close-up 'white' salt boat on the Dead Sea - MADABA MAP  

 The MABABA map - Two boats loaded with Salt - One with Red salt from evaporation pans - the second with White [grey] rock Salt from Mt. Sdom
MABABA Madaba map - Two boats loaded with Salt - One with Red salt from evaporation pans - the second with White [gray] rock Salt from Mt. Sdom " Both boats are shown plying their loads from the south end of the Dead Sea towards the North shore and up to Jerusalem.Kind permission of: Franciscan Archaeological Institute - Jordan


  Mount Sdom on the western shore of the south end of the Dead Sea was one of the few sources of rock salt available - It became a critical source when salt making on the oceans' shores became impossible due to inundation of the salt pans supplying rock salt to Jerusalem and   the North, and Petra and the South.   The Roman limes was centered on this mountain and it was guarded from Masada for more than 30 years after the Jews had been routed.
A fortress guarding the salt caravans route from the Dead Sea in the Yeelim pass, dating from Roman period , and used to control and collect tax on the salt from Mt Sdom

The Dead Sea itself gives another indication of the very wet climate of that period: it  rose to reach 72 [seventy two] meters above the present level between 70 BC and 40 BC and . The Qumran, Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves near this high watermark possibly to protect them, rather than to hide them. This high watermark postioned Qumran at the edge of the Dead Sea precisely on the coast and possibly it served as a harbour.  Similarly the sea level rose in the Jordan valley allowing boats to sail up the JORDAN RIVER and unload a short distance from Beit Shaan so that  goods   to be transported up wadi Milech [salt valley] to Caesaria. [this would explain why Caesaria is situated opposite on the sea coast which otherwise has appeared to be an anomally] 

One fact seems reasonably certain: around 500 BC. at the height of the ancient Greek and Phoenician civilizations, the ocean level was between one and two meters lower than it is today. From then on, for nearly 800 years - from 600 BC. to 100 AD - the ocean level remained low enough and the climate sufficiently genial enough, to allow some coastal saltmaking, though floods in Rome and silting, [indicating a higher sea level], up at the mouth of the Tiber, soon became a problem in the 1st century AD. - The rising sealevel and flooding became severe enough to force the port of Ostia, a Roman naval base in the 3rd and 4th centuries, as well as the saltpans nearby, to be moved inland. The Emperor Claudius rebuilt a harbour near the present day Fumicino airport, but in 62 AD [Tacitus], after 200 ships had been destroyed there , Trajan sited his port still further up the Tiber as a six-sided basin:

Lepcis Magna, the polygonal port in North Africa was also built at the time of Trajan, and is today similarly landlocked. Mount Cassius on the Sinai coast, and Ephesus in Turkey would also seem to have similar characteristics of suffering from difficulties at a time of eustatic sea level changes.

The port of Classis near Ravenna was capable of harbouring 100 ships shortly after Augustus, and became a major port . Other coastal towns like Ravenna and Aquilea, previously deep inland, turned into ports and were among the few ports situated near saltworks to survive in Italy, only to later become landlocked again, for the coming centuries, high and dry and about 10 km from the coast.


A little before 1300 AD, the sea returned to its previous [high] level, again flooding the Dutch, French, and English Peat areas closing them down. During the previous five centuries, millions of tons of peat had been removed providing the saltmakers fuel for their boiling processes. They left behind huge cavities which became known as the Dutch 'meers', the French 'clairs' and the English 'broads'.

However during this period of coastal flooding , fortunately , a renaissance of inland salt mining technology and new brining methods compensated for loss of production, and rock sources in England, Burgundy, Germany , Poland, and Austria, and this time allowed normal life to go on, albeit causing political salt monopolies and requiring maintenance of forestry for fueling the new furnaces. By the 16th century, the old Chinese method of drilling and brining came into use in Cheshire, England and Germany, using coal for boiling. It was this method which finally allowed salt production to become the inexpensive, widely distributed, commodity that it is today.


SEPTEMBER 1, 1997 VOL. 150 NO. 9

India's Salt Lake Cities

Recent digs in the ancient town that was Dholavira are revealing a civilization vastly ahead of its time
Third Salt Man discovered in northwestern Iran    

TEHRAN, Jan. 17 (MNA) -- The remains of a skeleton of a man were recently discovered at the Chehrabad salt mine near Zanjan in northwestern Iran.


The third Salt Man’s body was buried under a two-ton rock, Amir Elahi, the director of the excavation team at the mine, said on Monday.


Several items such as a leather sack full of salt, a clay tallow burner, two pairs of leather shoes, and two cow horns were also discovered near the skeleton, added Elahi.


According to the director of the Zanjan Cultural Heritage and Tourism Department, Yahya Rahmati, the Salt Man was killed and buried by the two-ton rock, severely damaging the skeleton, but the items discovered beside him are in excellent condition.


“The newly discovered leather sack was full of crystals of salt and was completely tightened. This indicates that the owner was about to carry it out of the mine, but was suddenly crushed by the heavy rock, leaving him no chance to escape,” he added.


“The discovery of the remains of the skeleton near the rock proves the theory about a mine collapse at a specific time,” he said, adding that although the three skeletons were discovered close to each other, more studies are required to accurately date the remains.


He also announced that two more old tunnels, which were the major passages of the mine, were discovered during the recent excavation.


The second Salt Man was discovered at the Hamzehlu salt mine near Zanjan. The remains of the skeleton are almost perfect, and they include parts of the skull, jaw, both arms, as well as the left and right legs and feet.


Several pieces of wool cloth and a piece of a straw mat with a unique style of weaving were also discovered beside the second Salt Man. The remains are currently being kept at the Zanjan Cultural Heritage and Tourism Department.


The second skeleton was found 30 to 40 meters from the place where the first Salt Man was discovered.


The first Salt Man, a miner whose body was preserved by the salt, lived over 1700 years ago. He was also a man between the ages of 35 and 40. His remains are currently being kept in a glass case at the National Museum of Iran in Tehran.


The first Salt Man’s withered face stares into the distance. He has long white hair and a beard and was discovered wearing leather boots and with some tools and a walnut in his possession.





 This painting by Andrea Locatelli, signed AL,  illustrates an identifiable place near Rome, an area near the salt pans of Ostia. As is typical in the works of this artist, though, the scene is described in a somewhat generalized manner. There were two working salt pans near Rome in antiquity: those of Ostia, and others, not far away on the Portuense, and the Saline near Ponte Galera. As Luisa Chimenti and Fernando Bilancia have written, the latter were the actual reason for the conquest of the Etruscans by the Romans. Like those at Ostia these BEDS for a long time supplied salt to the citizenry and were the origin of the Port established as a center for its extraction. ostia salt pans

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