Friday, July 17, 2009

Salt and the Migration of Civilizations

Salt has a very interesting history and is closely connected to the growth of migration of civilizations. Consider that it was only about 100 years ago, with the knowledge gained through modern geology, that we realized salt was common and easy to obtain. One hundred years! Prior to this modern science breakthrough, salt was considered one of the most sought-after and treasured resources in human history.

Before modern refrigeration and canning processes, salt was used to preserve food. Once large amounts of meats could be preserved with salt, empires could go on the march and feed their armies. Some of the first conquests were salt-rich regions.

Throughout the course of human civilizations many of the great cities have been built near salt mines or evaporation mining operations in coastal areas. Salt has been used as currency in ancient times, including as payment to Roman soldiers. The word salax (salt) is the base for the word ‘salary’ and this is also the beginning of the old saying ‘worth his salt’.

Cool stuff, huh? It’s amazing to study how closely the placement of powerful civilizations in history is linked geographically to salt sources.

Here’s one example of a city built on the industry of salt; Salzburg, Austria. Salzburg’s salt mines sit protected by this fortress, which was originally built for archbishops of the Roman Catholic Church. “Salzburg” translates to “Salt castle” and enormous wealth came from these mines. Not only did Salzburg have the valuable salt resource itself, but a toll was charged for all barges that passed by on the Salzach river below.

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