ECONOMICS & SALT                  

                                                                          At the beginning of the Roman period the sea level was at least 2m below present levels the last fluctuations of the glacial sea level rise.   Filling the salt evaporation pans relied on the sea level. Salt making was well established on the Western European coasts, and the Mediterranean. These vast flat coastal areas ideal for making salt were gradually inundated - until by about 400 AD, (what were to become) the Meers, Broads, Clairs and the traditional Roman salt flats of  Ostia, Aquilea, Ravenna had all been flooded.   Rome's port was moved inland three times. The effects of this sea level rise to nearly 2 m above present day levels was catastrophic for western European salt makers.   During the 'Dark Ages' salt traffic almost disappeared and the coasts of Britain and France became deserted.
The general population density fell in spite of an influx of Germanic tribes from the north.    Rome was forced to establish 'via salaria' to such forsaken places as the Dead Sea, the African and Asian salt mines the desert lakes such as the Tatta [Tuz Golu].     These  became the inland salt havens for the European civilization. 
From about 700 AD the sea level began receding and coastal flats again re-emerged.    According to the Doomesday book by 1086 hundreds of saltpans were again operating in the English estuaries, and the 'Bay' salt of Bourgneuf began supplying a revitalized Europe from Scandinavia to the Baltic.   The vacuum was suddenly filled with Norsemen taking over British and French salt centers, and even Arabs invaded Spain finally clashing with the Normans in Provence. Ravenna, Venice, and Yarmouth in England began to thrive.  Concurrently the inland Asian and African sources lost their importance to the maritime nations. 
The data available today due to the Global warming research, has shown that these eustatic sea level changes were possible, and Archaeological data from more than 200 submerged  Mediterranean sites is confirming them. 

The salt monopolies established during the previous inundation  initiated at the turn of the millennium such as  the Gabelle [fr]/gabellum [latin]/quabala [arabic]/gavia [hebrew] were the basis for a 'relatively' ordered but still  authoritarian Medieval history.    They were administered by the monks and their Royal siblings. The customs and salt tax 'limes' delineating the local inland salt monopoly later evolved into territorial borders rather than tax points, and the future frontier lines  of today's 'sovereign' states.  It also led to the misunderstanding that a government administered monopoly in certain public sectors is efficient and therefore for 'our own' good

Money -
Trade -
Salt Monopolies [India]-
Salt Monopolies [France]-
Salt Monopolies [Israel] -
Salt Monopolies - [Japan]
Salt Monopolies - [China]

Salt tax in Judea LMLK seals

Salt tax in China

Transport industries -
Protection industries -
Temple Industries -

ESSAY  - SALT and the evolution of MONEY part1

ESSAY  - SALT and the evolution of MONEY part 2

ESSAY  - SALT and the evolution of MONOPOLY


Aristotle believed that primitive barter trading of standardized commodities 'hall-marked" by an authority for correct weight and quality, represented the first use of "money". He says......."as the the necessaries of nature were not all easily ,portable, people agreed for the purposes of barter, mutually to give and receive some article which.....was practically easy to handle in the business of life.....

The trading of standardized pieces of salt, and metal have all the the aspects of dealing in what we call For instance bread-like moles of salt each weighing about 5 kg still circulate in Ethiopia as a means of payment.  

An old Persian word for the shekel was  a [pathuka]--a 'ram'" (Dandamaev and Lukonin) It also meant five fingers [or worth a handful of salt?] possibly the handful of salt was the  amount required to de-hydrate by osmosis the meat of one ram and render it "kosher"

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Ethiopian airlines advertisement

Pliny following Aristotle's ideas, interprets the use of salt as a means of payment ..."in Rome...the soldier's pay was originally salt and the word salary derives from it..." Plinius Naturalis Historia. XXXI -

 [Pliny may well have interpreted this payment wrongly.  To judge from the missions and the locations to which the Roman army was dispatched,  it would seem that protecting the salt sources and ensuring the 'via salarium' was  the true military objective - The first "legions" aka : LEGIO : "levying"   for the monarchy,  were not paid  since the collection of salt from its sources which was clearly the ultimate value itself,  and was their business and necessary for their tribal economic viability as a domesticated entity ].

Bill Thayer's Web Site
where you will find:

  1. salt flats of Cervia

  2. Salinae
  3. Libra
  4. Roman Money
  5. Mint
  6. Via Salaria
  7. Porta Salaria


Marco Polo writes about salt as if it were a treasure as precious as gold.... "KAIN-du is a Chinese pro vince...where the money or currency they make use of, is thus prepared: their gold is formed into small rods and being cut to certain lengths , passes according to its weight without any stamp......This is their greater money. The smaller [money] is of the following description...".in this country there are salt springs from which they manufacture salt by boiling it in small pans. When the water has boiled for an hour it becomes a kind of paste which is formed into cakes of the value of twopence each. These, flat on the lower, and convex on the upper side, are placed upon hot tiles near a fire in order to dry and harden. On these latter species of money , the stamp of the Grand Khan is impressed, and cannot be impressed by any other than its own officers. When these are carried to little frequented parts they obtain a 'saggio' of gold for sixty, fifty or even forty salt cakes....the further removed from the towns....."

Understanding the history of salt, may help us to understand
what money represents AND ITS REAL PLACE  IN TODAY'S ECONOMY :-

It may also help us to understand how and why we have almost self destructed our civilisations following the relative freedom of  the Agean democracies.  Our modern civilisation still reflects , the monopolism and corruption inherent in the extremes of socialism and capitalism  of many of today's governments.  [Winston Churchill claimed democracy,  was only the least dangerous of the two]    Both these regimes would seem to be destined to collapse so long as they are enhanced by monopoly interest sectors although democracy does have anti-trust legislation.   We are still confused as to whether state monopolies are efficient use of resources or recipes for corruption and manipulation

MONOPOLY  - India  - The Near East India Co.


MONOPOLY  - France



MONEY  represents VALUE  [money  should   specifically be used as a means of measurement registering exchange - and not as a commodity ]

MONEY should  be printed or coined   in an amount  to reflect  added value and work in progress over a designated period.

MONEY is authorized  as a tax value by the community regime and ought only to be printed and spent at a relative rate equal to actual services assets and work in progress

MONEY fulfils its representative  value when it is spent on an article or service of value to society and which improves the living standard.

Money in circulation or when considered as liquidity can only be limited by the conceived value of the economy it represents

MONEY represents negative book value   when wrongly or badly spent   [inflation]MONEY represents increased value   when spending it improves 'life'    [deflation]

ESSAY   - SALT and the evolution of MONEY      

SALT and the evolution of MONEY-part2.pdf

Means of payment or "primitive money" is not yet money in the sense of G.F.Knapp's "State theory" of money, however by introducing the "tally" system - "tessera" or "talea" in Latin, "kerbholz" [notched wood] in German, "Teomim" in Hebrew, "symbolon" in Greek, Chih-chi" in Chinese ....the essential element in the evolvement of money currency became possible, the deposits of stored valued goods [salt] were represented by the tally, which then itself became a means of payment.

The tally was treated as currency. Metal coinage and and paper money both became mass produced tallies, cheap to make but also easy to imitate, and so eventually limited to "smaller money" and used to pay individual tax. . A further refinement - the records of the tally's existence, became tangible and transferable, and so on, until even work and services could be "notched up" as transferable value. Thus paper 'value' began to replace the wooden tally system. It was the State's "charter" which gave such transactions their value and credibility, and state monopolies on valuable goods, which ensured intrinsic value. For example, in China in 1329 AD, all tax was paid in paper money, : 82% of which came from the salt monopoly

tally money notched wood

The Tally was conventionally, a willow stick up to eight feet long and notched to indicate the sums loaned to government, receipts and advances were normally only in very large amounts in millions of pounds. On repayment the split halves were matched together. Tallies were abolished only in 1826. The burning of these old tallies caused [by chance] the destruction of the Houses of Parliament in 1834


French Gabelle

Table Showing the results of Mr. Necker’s investigating to the salt duties in France (18th century)

Divisions of France  Number of inhabitants Quality of quintals of salt consumed in each division  Price in each of the quintal of salt
Les Provinces de Grandes Gabelle 8300000 760000  62 livres
Les Provinces de Petites Gabelle  460000 60000  33 Livers 10 sous 
Les Provinces de Salines  1960000  275000 21 Livers 10 sous 
Les Provinces Redimees  4625000 830000  from 6 to 12 livers
Les Provinces Franches 4739000 830000  from 2 to 9 livers 
Les Pays of Quart Boullion  585000  115000  16 livres 
24800000 3450000 

N.B. A quintal of salt is equal to 100 French pounds which is equal to 112 English pounds, or 50 kg
Whereas anyone could buy or sell salt, its distribution was subject to legal controls and restrictions (amounts imported, licences, commercial documents, etc...) and to a specific tax - gabelle - paid to the ruler. The salt gabelle - a legacy of the gabelle that Charles of Anjou instituted in 1259 to finance his conquest of the Kingdom of Naples - was introduced in France as a temporary measure in 1317 and definitively in 1340.
Because it was variable according to time and place, it very soon became synonymous with fiscal injustice and was at the origin of riots instigated by both those who feared the loss of their privileges and those who had nothing to lose (e.g. in 1548 in Western France and in 1639 in Normandy). Much friction arose from constantly putting off the equalization of the gabelle throughout the French kingdom. The Finance minister Sully's attempts to organise salt supplies and tax-collecting at the end of the 16th C under the reign of Henry IV were not entirely successful. The ruling on the gabelle and its various ratifications 80 years later also failed to unify or just simplify procedures. All this was essentially because, until the French revolution, those with official tenure at the storehouse - who cared little for the royal tax but much for the social prerogatives that went with it - and the agents to whom the tax was farmed out - who paid a fixed sum out of their own personal fortunes for this privilege and for whom the proceeds of the tax were vital - did not always see eye to eye. Too many people, great or small - keepers, clerks, tax collectors and inspectors - had a vested interest to defend. All were willing to help repress smuggling arising from the inequalities in the tax regime. Offenders could even be condemned to the galleys, a sentence that did much to sustain hatred of the gabelle and for its associated exemption, the 'franc salé'.
 Although the gabelle was revoked in 1790 by the Constitutive Assembly, it was very soon re-established and not finally abolished until the 1946 Finance Law. In Germany, a similar tax on table salt was not revoked until 1993 !


JAPANESE TO PRIVATIZE SALT BUSINESS.Japan's Finance Ministry has announced an end to the 90 year old monopoly of the salt market in March, 1997. Japan Tobacco Inc. has handled all salt sales in Japan; domestic Japanese production is done by seven companies who sell their salt to JTI. The new structure will provide "free competition amongst private companies engaged in importation, production and wholesale of salt," according to the Ministry. SIR96-2...........end

                              Chance interest in salt ?

One day in 1938, a convoy was grinding slowly up the road from the Dead Sea to Jerusalem. Suddenly, the trucks halted and the armed escort disappeared into the hills. Shots rang out and shortly afterwards the police returned with the bodies of two Bedouin. There was a monopoly on salt in force the sergeant explained and the men were suspected of smuggling.

It was not the first such incident. The Palestine Post of December 4, 1938 carried this report: 'two British constables .. were acquitted of the killing of a Bedouin and the wounding of his companion, who were suspected of smuggling contraband salt...The policemen were pursueing the Bedouin, and they fired when the fugitives appeared to be getting away...'

Why should a monopoly be so deadly? And why should men have risked their lives for a few kilos of salt?



07/06/2001 21:10
Anti-Trust Authority: Salt Industries willing to scrap cartel with Dead Sea Works
Salt Industries has agreements with Dead Sea Works for buying fixed quantities of salt at fixed prices until 2010.
Sapir Peretz

Salt Industries today expressed willingness to cancel its cartel with Dead Sea Works and pledged not to engage in restrictive trade practices in the future, an Anti-Trust Authority source told “Globes” today.

Salt Industries’ reaction was not available by web-posting time.

Published by Israel's Business Arena on 7 June, 2001

A Salt monopoly still exists in Israel today - The Dankner group  -as in many other countries


Mankind can live without gold...but not without Salt -[CASSIODORUS]

camel train

TRANSPORT - "The silent Trade"

It is probably not coincidence that amongst the earliest known urban settlements were sites around Jericho and that they spread from the Dead Sea up the Jordan Valley. Rivers were then the only practical routes for bulk cargoes, salt going in one direction ad farm produce in the other. The great navigable rivers all over the world were used in this way. In Egypt, early farming depended on boats bringing salt up the Nile from the swamps of the river delta as well as by caravan traveling from the salt lakes in the desert. The hinterland of France was supplied with salt carried up the Rhone from the Camargue; the interior of Russia by a rout up the Dnieper River from the Black Sea.

Overland, caravans of camels, horses, donkeys and llamas carried salt across deserts and over mountains to salt-hungry populations b, . Until very recently a great caravan of 2000 camels, each bearing a load of 150 kg, made the 700 km journey to the market at Timbuctu from the Taoeni salt centers in the Sahara twice a year. It carried 300 tons of salt for the Nigerian farmers and returned with food for the salt miners, each convoy being guarded against robbers by a battalion of the French Foreign Legion. , One 150-ton ship could do the work of a thousand camels and so salt was an important item in ocean-going commerce. During antiquity , great fleets served the salt and salt-fish trade in the Mediterranean . Later, in the Middle Ages , a similar traffic (mainly the Hanseatic fleet) cruised along the Atlantic and Baltic coasts from France to bring the “Bay Salt” to the Netherlands, Britian, Scandinavia and Russia. Spain and Portugal traded salt to Africa, India and the Americas. Britian , a latecomer, joined in the trade by shipping salt from Cheshire where it was produced with the help of coal.

Table Comparison of ancient and modern transport methods
Quantity(tons)  Means of transport  Men employed  Velocity Period 
10000  1 Liberty ship  50  20 km/h present 
10000  60000 camels  5000  2 km/h ancient 
desert transport up to present 
10000  30 ships (Hansa)  1000  10 km/h 13th to 15th century 
10000  100 river trains (barges)  5000 horses  5000 Germany, 18th century 
10000  200 motor trucks rail/road  250  50 km/h present 

Since salt was produced in relatively few places often far from urban and agricultural areas where it is required and consumed, transport was an important part of its cost. Salt derived from ocean water could mostly be loaded onto ships, and it paid to transport the salt over great distances by sea. During the Middle Ages, for example salt was brought from Spain and France to England, Holland, Scandinavia, and Russia by the vessels of the Hansa fleet [up to 800 tons] Cheshire salt was shipped from England to the Indies, and from Portugal to Brazil during the 18th and 19th centuries, and from Spain, Sardinia, Turkey and Egypt to Japan.

Where river transport was possible inland sources were cheap enough. Those parts of the great continents that were not easily connected by river or later by rail, to sources such as inner Africa, had to use animals of burden such as mules, camels, Llama, and horses.

A caravan of a thousand camels cared for by one hundred men was the equivilent to a ship carrying 150 tons of salt before the Industrial revolution To study the important role that salt played in the history of man, one would be well advised to study the history of the gold trade of the flourishing trans-Saharan market.: between the North African littoral and the African Kingdoms to the south of the desert.  

The great salt caravan trains linked the cities that grew to exclusively protect and serve them enroute.

Berbers, Arabs, Jews, and Christians drew on the wealth of the Sudanese who live west of Lake Chad . The gold came from "Wangara" and the four gold districts of Bambuk, Bura, Lobi and Ashanti.natgeoblima.jpg (580454 bytes)

The methods of trading were known as the "silent trade", or "dumb barter". Similar methods were known in the silk trade.
..."The procedure was this: when the merchants reached [the river] they beat great drums to summon the natives, who would not appear in the presence of the strangers, The merchants arranged their goods [salt] in piles, and retired out of site. The natives then appeared and put a heap of gold beside each pile, and retired. If the mechants were satisfied, they took the gold, beating their drums to signal completion.
There is a Moorish proverb....The price of a negro salt "


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