History of Salt in Religion
Salt has long held an important place in religion and culture. Greek worshipers consecrated salt in their rituals. Jewish Temple offerings included salt; on the Sabbath, Jews still dip their bread in salt as a remembrance of those sacrifices. In the Old Testament, Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt. Author Sallie Tisdale notes that salt is as free as the water suspending it when it's dissolved, and as immutable as stone when it's dry - a fitting duality for Lot's wife, who overlooks Sodom to this day.
Covenants in both the Old and New Testaments were often sealed with salt: the origin of the word "salvation." In the Catholic Church, salt is or has been used in a variety of purifying rituals. In fact, until Vatican II, a small taste of salt was placed on a baby's lip at his or her baptism. Jesus called his disciples "the Salt of the Earth." In Leonardo DaVinci's famous painting, "The Last Supper," Judas Escariot has just spilled a bowl of salt - a portent of evil and bad luck. To this day, the tradition endures that someone who spills salt should throw a pinch over his left shoulder to ward off any devils that may be lurking behind.
In Buddhist tradition,
Salt repels evil spirits. That's why it's customary to throw salt over your shoulder before entering your house after a funeral: it scares off any evil spirits that may be clinging to your back.
Shinto religion also uses salt to purify an area. Before sumo wrestlers enter the ring for a match—which is actually an elaborate Shinto rite—a handful of salt is thrown into the center to drive off malevolent spirits.
In the Southwest, the Pueblo worship the Salt Mother. Other native tribes had significant restrictions on who was permitted to eat salt. Hopi legend holds that the angry Warrior Twins punished mankind by placing valuable salt deposits far from civilization, requiring hard work and bravery to harvest the precious mineral.
In 1933, the Dalai Lama was buried sitting up in a bed of salt.
Today, a gift of salt endures in Pakistan as a potent symbol of good luck and a reference to Mahatma Gandhi's liberation of Pakistan, which included a symbolic walk to the sea to gather tax-free salt for the nation's poor.
History of Salt Economics
As a precious and portable commodity, salt has long been a cornerstone of economies throughout history. In fact, researcher M.R. Bloch conjectured that civilization began along the edges of the desert because of the natural surface deposits of salt found there. Bloch also believed that the first war, likely fought near the ancient city of Essalt on the Jordan River, could have been fought over the city's precious salt supplies.
In 2200 BC, the Chinese emperor Hsia Yu levied one of the first known taxes. He taxed salt. In Tibet, Marco Polo noted that tiny cakes of salt were pressed with images of the Grand Khan and used as coins. Salt is still used as money among the nomads of Ethiopia's Danakil Plains.
Greek slave traders often bartered salt for slaves, giving rise to the expression that someone was "not worth his salt." Roman legionnaires were paid in salt—salarium, the Latin origin of the word "salary."
Merchants in 12th-Century Timbuktu, the gateway to the Sahara Desert and the seat of scholars, valued salt as highly as books and gold.
In France, Charles of Anjou levied the "gabelle," a salt tax, in 1259 to finance his conquest of the Kingdom of Naples. Outrage over the gabelle fueled the French Revolution. Though the revolutionaries eliminated the tax shortly after Louis XIV fell, the Republic of France reestablished the gabelle in the early 19th Century; only in 1946 was it removed from the books.
The Erie Canal, an engineering marvel that connected the Great Lakes to New York's Hudson River in 1825, was called "the ditch that salt built." Salt tax revenues paid for half the cost of construction of the canal.
The British monarchy supported itself with high salt taxes, leading to a bustling black market for the white crystal. In 1785, the earl of Dundonald wrote that every year in England, 10,000 people were arrested for salt smuggling. Protesting British rule in 1930, Mahatma Gandhi led a 200-mile march to the Arabian Ocean to collect untaxed salt for Pakistan's poor.
History of Salt Warfare
The effects of salt deficiency are highlighted in times of war, when human bodies and national economies are strained to their limits.
Thousands of Napoleon's troops died during the French retreat from Moscow due to inadequate wound healing and lowered resistance to disease—the results of salt deficiency.
Salt production facilities in Saltville, Va., Virginia's Kanawha Valley and Avery Island, Louisiana, were early targets of the Union Army. The North fought for 36 hours to capture Saltville, Va., where the salt works were considered crucial to the Rebel army. So crucial, that Confederate President Jefferson Davis offered to waive military service to anyone willing to tend coastal salt kettles to supply the South's war effort. In addition to dietary salt, the Confederacy needed the precious mineral to tan leather, dye cloth for uniforms and preserve meat.
Salt in History
Since its discovery, several thousand years ago, salt has profoundly affected human life, not only with respect to the feeding habits or the ancient food preserving home industry, but also in the human, economic, mythological and religious spheres. Last but not least, on beliefs, habits and superstitions. Salt was a greatly appreciated exchange commodity, so much so that the so-called "salt routes" were born, through which merchants transported and sold it in countries where it was not produced.
Some sources have confirmed the presence of such trading back in prehistoric times. The Phoenician showed themselves as true masters in the extraction and trading of salt, but only under the Romans can one speak of real exploitation of salt pans and the existence of a widespread trading network. It was precisely during the Roman Empire that soldiers were paid with sacks of salt, whence our term "salary".
The production and the transport of salt gave rise to new cities and to the construction of roads; such is the case of Salzburg—literally the "city of salt"—and of the via Salaria (the road of the salt) in Italy. Since the most remote past a tax was imposed on salt in numerous countries, but it has largely lost its importance today. Until 1975, in Italy this tax was collected through fiscal monopolies and the imposition of import customs. The State had a monopoly on the manufacture and sale of salt, and fixed the final market price, which included the tax rate of about 70% of the selling price. Discount prices were fixed on salt for agricultural and industrial uses, while its production was tax-free in Sicily, Sardinia and in the towns of Olivigno and Campione d'Italia.
Most ancient civilizations were accompanied by myths, religious and magic rites involving salt: one need only consider the history of the Jewish people or the content of some books of the Old Testament. For the ancient Hebrews salt, thanks to its flavoring qualities that made food tastier, became a symbol of the joy of joining around a table, so that eating together meant living in brotherly love.
In the New Testament salt found its place as well, present in a great number of metaphors or in parables as symbol of wisdom, incorruptibility, eternity and alliance between God and man. In Rome, on the eight day following his birth, a piece of salt was rubbed on the baby to keep away the demons and evil spirits. In the Gospel Jesus recommends his disciples to be "the salt of the earth", that is to be a force capable of keeping men from the corruption of sin.
The ancient Greeks and the Hebrews used salt during sacrifices, just as within the Roman temples the vestals prepared the sacrificial millstone by rubbing it with brine.
But if the salt fell from the head of the sacrifice's chosen victim, it was a sign of bad luck. Hence, the superstition, that has come down to our present time, is so engrained in us that in The Last Supper of Leonardo da Vinci we recognize Judas Iscariot -who shortly thereafter would betray Jesus- by the saltcellar he has carelessly dropped in front of him.
Considered by Plinio in his Naturalis historia as a panacea, in times gone by salt was offered to guests in sign of friendship (in Prague), while Germans took their oath with their hand sunk in it. In the Christian civilization, a bit of salt was even placed in the mouth of the baptized, pronouncing the formula "accipe sal sapiente", meaning that wisdom itself should flavor man's entire life. From Orazio
And, to conclude, salt can even be found in our bag of superstitions: many believe in its apostrophic power to drive away and exorcise evil spirits by sprinkling it on spilled oil. On the other hand there are those who fear bad luck will befall them if they should chance to drop salt on the floor, while it brings bad luck to the others if it is thrown.
A popular custom still in use in a number of European countries requires that a handful of salt be thrown in the coffin of a dead person before the burial. The salt—as symbol of incorruptibility and immortality—would thus keep away the devil. For the same reason in ancient Scotland salt was added in the brewing of beer, which would otherwise have been ruined by witches and evil spirits. In point of fact, the added salt had the affect of preventing excessive fermentation in the brew and therefore avoids its potential "corruption".