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Salt – expensive commodity in Roman times

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Salt in Roman times was an extremely valuable commodity, mainly due to the fact that it was used for food preservation. This, in turn, encouraged the Roman authorities to impose large taxes on salt or after the monopolisation of the market. Pliny claims that Roman legionaries sometimes received pay in the form of salt allocation. Therefore, the phrase “worth one’s salt” is commonly used in English.

The English word for “salary” derives from the Latin word salarium (“pay”), which determined the pay of legionaries, for which they could buy salt. Pliny the Elder believes that the word salarium is derived from the word salarius, meaning salt. He also claims that in Rome, soldiers received a payment in the form of precious salt.

It is worth noting that in Italy there was a road Via Salaria that stretched from Rome, from the gate Porta Salaria, to Castrum Truentinum and then to the Adriatic coast. The route is named because of salt – Sabini brought salt here. The Adriatic Sea is a reservoir with a higher degree of salinity compared to the Tyrrhenian Sea, which is closer to Rome.

  • Pliny the Elder, Natural History, XXI 41

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