6,000 BC

Chinese harvesting of salt from the surface of Xiechi Lake is an example of one of the oldest systematic saltworks ever found. Salt is mined by slaves and even entire villages. Assyrians initiate the practice of salting the earth as a military tactic to destroy enemy farmlands.

3,000 BC

Egyptians begin exporting salt fish to the Phoenicians in return for expensive luxuries. The Phoenicians trade Egyptian salt fish and salt from North Africa throughout their Mediterranean empire. Pure salt is included among funereal offerings in ancient Egyptian tombs which included salted birds and fish. Saharan salt routes are heavily protected to keep the trade flourishing. Salt came from Libya, Tunisia, and Nubia. Evaporated seawater from the Mediterranean Sea becomes a source of salt.

1,000 BC

The early European Celts of Hallstatt (meaning “salt town”) begin mining salt. The Germanic root word “salz” means “salt,” hence the names for key towns of Salzburg, Hallstatt, and Hallein, which lie on the Salzach river in central Austria. Hallstatt literally means “salt town” and Hallein “saltwork”. Salzach stands for “salt water” and Salzburg “salt city.”

The Hallstatt Celts, who originally mined for salt, begin open pan salt making. During the first millennium BC, Celtic communities grow rich trading salt and salted meat to Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome in exchange for wine and other luxuries. The Italian Etruscans, the early Romans, and the Carthaginians in North Africa, also discover evaporation to produce salt.

100 BC

Salt production is extremely important to the Romans. The Via Salaria (originally a Sabine trail), leading from Rome to the Adriatic Sea is built in part to facilitate salt transportation. The Roman Republic and Empire carefully control the price of salt, increasing it to raise money for wars. The word salad literally means “salted,” and comes from the ancient Roman practice of salting leaf vegetables. Caravans with as many as forty-thousand camels travel four hundred miles of the Sahara bearing salt and slaves to inland markets.

600 AD

The Japanese develop a two-step technology for concentration and crystallization of salt. Seaweed, soaked in seawater, is gathered and allowed to dry. The salt that precipitates on the seaweed is rinsed off into more seawater, producing a concentrated brine. This brine is then heated in clay pots until the salt turns to crystals.

1,000 AD

City states and principalities along the salt roads exact heavy taxes on salt passing through their territories. This practice even causes the formation of cities, such as Munich in 1158, when the Duke of Bavaria (Henry the Lion) decides that the bishops of Freising no longer need their salt revenue and takes it from them.

1,200 AD

The gabelle — a French salt tax — is enacted in 1286 and maintained until 1790. In time it becomes one of the most hated and grossly unequal taxes in the country. Because of the gabelles, common salt is of such high value that it causes wars, mass population shifts and exodus, and attracts invaders. In England, use of the ‘wich’ suffix in place names is associated with towns with salt production. Several English places carry the suffix and are historically related to salt, including the four Cheshire ‘wiches’ of Middlewich, Nantwich, Northwich and Leftwich, and Droitwich in Worcestershire.

1600 S

Salt production is very significant to early America. The Massachusetts Bay Colony holds a patent to produce salt in the colonies and continues to produce it for the next 200 years. During the Revolutionary War, the British intercepts the rebels’ salt supply to destroy their ability to preserve food. During the War of 1812, salt brine was used to pay soldiers in the field, as the government was too poor to pay them with money. Before Lewis and Clark set out for the Louisiana Territory, President Jefferson tells Congress about a “mountain of salt” near the Missouri River, which is of immense value.

1930 S

The British exact a heavy tax on salt in India. It becomes a symbol of colonialism that sparks Mahatma Ghandi’s famous Salt March to Dandi. Gandhi leads over 100,000 people on the march, during which protesters make their own salt from the sea, at the time illegal under the British rule. The march sparks large-scale acts of civil disobedience against the British Raj salt laws by millions of Indians and becomes an important milestone in the struggle for Indian independence.

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