Salt Trade

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Salt Trade

Postby Oakey Dokey » 7:32 am

Just a few words on salt off the top of my head to set things in perspective.

Salt is extremely abundant on the earth and has many benefits and drawbacks to its presence such as its alkilinity in soil (therefore soil's ability to grow different types of plants) to its presence in arid regions allowing civilisation to take off.

The problem for us is that Salt is greatly underestimated for its importance in antiquity and mainly because it's been lumped in with the 'spice' trade when in fact it was a main export for certain areas. The word salary (reference to wages paid) actually means paid in salt or "worth in salt". IT WAS THAT IMPORTANT.

The most abundantly used salt was NaCl common table salt and was obtained in ancient times by sea evaporation (sea salt or rock salt) in special ponds (I've actualy seen this in Fuertaventura in the Canary Islands) or salt springs. Modern times are different: we mine for ancient sea bed salt.

Rock salt is also an evaporite and can be called halite and is obtained in various ways and has a crystalline transparent appearance but can also form white yellow and powdery appearances (I'm guessing rock salt is strictly the large crystals), the main use of which was preservation of food and the dead but also in diet to an extent.

Another important salt trade was in Na2CO3, sodium carbonate, and was used in wound dressing and cleaning.

Salt is a general term and encompasses many chemicals but these two are the most relevant to everday living in the past. As far as I remember, an ancient Jewish city was named after salt but you'd have to check that out yourself as I can't confirm it yet (I'll have a look around) I think the 'more' recent name began with Ammon or something (which in itself is interesting). I'll get back to this tho.

Incidentally, King Herod was in power to 'make salt' for the Romans.
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Re: Salt Trade

Postby Mick Harper » 7:35 am

Amman, Jordan is the only Muslim capital named after a pagan deity, Amun.

But, uno problemo. We have been proceeding on the basis that sea-salt was the stuff evaporated from the sea and brine-pools whereas rock-salt was actually mined in salt-mines. This is very important because Saxo = Rock [in Latin, German(?)] and our theory depends on Saxons being rock(salt) miners who exported the stuff all over inland mittel Germany and (crucially) via the Elbe and the Oder (hence "Anglo"-Saxons) to feed the Scandinavian market (the Baltic is more or less salt-free).

Your reply seems to suggest that rock-salt is just encrusted sea-salt evaporate.
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Re: Salt Trade

Postby Oakey Dokey » 7:37 am

Salt production took off in Britain because of sea-level fluctuations in the Mediterranean affecting salt production there (flooding). This flooding was also felt in Britain, creating bogs and peat marshes which were ideal for fuel for the 'firing' technique the Romans used for fast production of salt.

Later, Britain had no choice but to turn to open-pan methods of natural evaporation as the sea once again rose, cutting off the peat bogs by submerging them beyond use. The Romans exported the salt all over Europe in the years their own supplies 'dried up'. It was also one of the major reasons for holding a relatively worthless Judaean province as it was the only other major salt production outside Pakistan. This is as much as I could glean initially.

Oh and I think the region of Amman was refered to as the 'valley of salt' when King David fought a tribe there and had many battles with them. Amman was its later name but its earlier name was directly linked with salt (I just can't recall the full details at the moment as it's a long time since I read up on it, sorry).

Hal and Sal are used in many ways to describe salt production and places of salt production and is linked to the evaporation of salt in the prefix Hal (halide).
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Re: Salt Trade

Postby DP Crisp » 7:45 am

Ammon = Amun. Sal Ammoniacus (obtained from camel dung apparently!) gives us ammonia, which forms salts and has all kinds of uses... Ammon is a Sun god, right?
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Re: Salt Trade

Postby Komorikid » 1:11 am

I think the city you are referring to is Al Sult (arabic), which lies between Amman and Jerusalem. This is the place know as Saltus by the Byzantines.

According to biblical references it was named after the Ammonites, a Hebrew tribe descended from Lot coincidentally associated with salt.

It does not appear to be of Egyptian extraction at all and is the root of the Irish name Eamon.
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Re: Salt Trade

Postby DP Crisp » 7:38 am

We mentioned sal ammoniac as one sort of salt known in Egypt, but I've been thinking...

Recent references are confident about what it was and where it was found:

"Sal Ammoniac was named after it was observed in the Temple of Zeus-Ammon in Egypt; its name means "salt of Ammon". It was the white crystalline substance that remained on the ceiling and walls after camel dung was burned."

"Sal ammoniac forms on volcanic rocks near fume releasing vents. There is no liquid phase as the mineral crystallizes from these fumes in a process called sublimation. The crystallization occurs as the gases are escaping and crystals tend to be short-lived. Sal ammoniac is very soluble in water and crystals will be removed during the first rain of their existence, so to speak, if they are not removed by collectors first.

"Other possible natural occurrences exist from underground burning coal seams. Alexander the Great is said to have found sal ammoniac crystals in a cave in a region that is now Tadzhikistan. The region was plagued by underground burning coal seams."

"Natural crystals of sal ammoniac have an unreal or unnatural character to them. They are so small, delicate, intricate and at times quite beautiful that they just do not seem to be like other minerals."


but older references are more equivocal. This is the 1911 Encyclopaedia, I think:

"SAL AMMONIAC, or AMMONIUM CHLORIDE, NH4Cl, the earliest known salt of ammonia, was formerly much used in dyeing {cf. alum} and metallurgic {cf. alchemy} operations.

"The name Hammoniacus sal occurs in Pliny (Nat. Hist. xxxi. 39), who relates that it was applied to a kind of fossil salt found below the sand, in a district of Cyrenaica. The general opinion is, that the sal ammoniac of the ancients was the same as that of the moderns; but the imperfect description of Pliny is far from being conclusive. The native sal ammoniac of Bucharia, described by Model and Karsten, and analysed by M. H. Klaproth, has no resemblance to the salt described by Pliny. The same remark applies to the sal ammoniac of volcanoes. Dioscorides (v. 126), in mentioning sal ammoniac, makes use of a phrase quite irreconcilable with the description of Pliny, and rather applicable to rock-salt than to our sal ammoniac. Sal ammoniac, he says, is peculiarly prized if it can be easily split into rectangular fragments. Finally, we have no proof whatever that sal ammoniac occurs at present, either near the temple of Jupiter Ammon, or in any part of Cyrenaica. Hence we conclude that the term sal ammoniac was applied as indefinitely by the ancients as most of their other chemical terms. It may have been given to the same salt which is known to the moderns by that appellation, but was not confined to it.

"In any case there can be no doubt that it was well known to the alchemists..."


Ammonia just means "of Amun", who is himself The Hidden One. He was concealed in a lotus flower before emerging to create the world, but it's also taken to refer to the unseen but powerful wind and to his omnipresence.

Since Amun creating the world "by himself" means "by masturbation" -- single-handed creation -- it's no surprise that air and rain were his first offspring (who in turn created sky and earth). This airy, meteorological association seems important.

As if sal ammoniac isn't mysterious enough by itself, delicate and ephemeral, being deposited out of the air (particularly in temples or not) is surely a dead give-away for it being a gift from the gods...

(This ties in with SAL = SAR = ZAR = helped (by gods). Lazarus, of course, was given very overt aid... and I dare say all those other "helped by god" names denote 'initiates to the Mysteries'.)

Of course, salts are used in mummification -- which is really about rebirth.

But then there's that suggestion that sal ammoniac was rock salt: a gift from god concealed under ground {Remember how ambrosia means both concealed and immortal?}.
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Re: Salt Trade

Postby Oakey Dokey » 7:47 am

Komorikid wrote:It does not appear to be of Egyptian extraction at all and is the root of the Irish name Eamon.

The Irish salt trade was no doubt boosted by the salt cod trade, code fishing off Greenland and Newfoundland was carried on by Norwegians, Basque, English and presumably Irish fishermen.

Salt ways were referred to by Alan Butler, I forget which of his books, in a somewhat abstract fashion. What is the relationship of salt roads to, say, drovers' routes? It would make sense to provide salt licks, especially at places like river crossings where their animals need to be pacified or contained.
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Re: Salt Trade

Postby DP Crisp » 7:49 am

Sal ammoniac was supplied to Europe by the Venetians and later by the Dutch.

There are some suggestions that the Venetians were Celts and the idea of the Celts as the original salt traders, overtaken by Germanic types (e.g. Saxons), seems to be a recurring theme.

I also came across Saint Amun, "one of the most venerated ascetics of the Nitrian desert".

Nitre (and other salts?) was collected in Nitria.

Nitre was also "a vital substance presumed to be present in the air and in rain".
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Re: Salt Trade

Postby hvered » 8:05 am

Mention of salt cod reminds me it isn't just salt but salted products that are valuable commodities. Carthaginian salt fish -- garum -- was a must-have, the Romans seemed to have been as addicted as the Chinese are to monosodium glutamate (MSG). It would be hard to find a recipe in a Roman cookbook that didn't include garum, even in sweet dishes.

Garum was obtained from fermented carbohydrates. It was mixed with other ingredients such as wine, vinegar, oil, pepper and water, similar to fermented fish sauces used in southeast Asia and to anchovy paste, made from ground anchovies, spices, vinegar and water, found throughout Mediterranean cuisine.

Carthage was likened to a factory, perhaps this was indeed the first international industry that arose out of salting fish (there was even a kosher version that omitted shellfish) but the most prized garum came from Cartagena (New Carthage) in southern Spain.

Carthage was said to have been utterly destroyed by the Romans salting the fields though this story seems to be strictly allegorical since Carthage was patently alive and thriving centuries later.
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Re: Salt Trade

Postby hvered » 3:10 pm

There seems to be a connection between Amun and garum and it sounds as though garum is monosodium glutamate. Scientists don't understand why or how MSG enhances flavours though they know what it is ("MSG is the sodium salt of the amino acid glutamic acid and a form of glutamate"). The process appears relatively simple: "today MSG is made by a fermenting process using starch, sugar beets, sugar cane, or molasses".

It's responsible for 'savouriness' of dishes and if used in cooking helps reduce the amount of salt needed to bring out flavours.

It was originally a "seaweed broth" used by "Asians". Glutamate occurs naturally in the body which may explain its appeal (cocaine is said to work in a similar way) and is found in foods such as cheese, milk, meat, peas and mushrooms. The effect of soy sauce, another flavour-enhancer containing fermented or treated products, is due to the presence of naturally occurring glutamate.
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