History of Salt

Salt which was defined by Homer as “the divine substance” has always been the sole mineral which has been consumed regularly for nourishment by people and one of the substances which has affected the course of the history of humanity and which has shaped the civilization from the very beginning and it.  These crystal particles which forms a part of the human body as well not only have brought taste to the daily life but also have become the symbol of the plentitude throughout the history and continuity of the researches made or keeping the given promises have always been expressed with salt. Salt which was offered as an expression of hospitality has often been used as a means of exchange instead of money as one of the first international trade goods. Due to this reason the ones who had salt in the various periods throughout the history had the biggest wealth.

It is natural for salt to have a special place in the history of mankind because it has affected wars, cultures, politics, religions, economies and of course foods and dieting from Li Bing who established the world’s first saltworks in China in 250 BC to Gandhi who held a “Salt Rebellion” against the British administration in 1930.

The discovery of salt use in food preservation started the establishment of civilizations. This invention eliminated the obligation to consume the foods only in their seasons and at the same time allowed them to be carried to long distances.  However it was very hard to produce salt in the old times and due to this reason salt became a valuable commercial good even accepted as a monetary unit among some people.  Another name for salt in the history was “white gold”.   The monetary unit in Ethiopia had been the salt bars weighing approximately half a kilogram called “amoleh” until 20th century.  In 1450, salt had the same value with the gold in the same weight. Salt is still used as money by the natives living in the Sudan and in the forest south of Sudan.

A road was constructed for carrying salt to Rome with the development of the city of Rome at the early years of Roman Empire. The most important of these roads was “Via Salaria” (salt road) which connects Rome to the Adriatic Sea and this road is the oldest Road which is still being used today. 

Roman Empire gave salt to Roman soldiers instead of salary. English word “Salary” comes from “sal” which is the root of “salarium” meaning salt in Latin.
High tax in salt and salt monopoly has caused riots in a lot of nations and wars between lots of countries from China to Africa continent.  One of the causes of the French Revolution was people rioting against the high salt tax. Mahatma Gandhi started the war of independence from English occupation by taking a handful of salt and raising it to the air.  Lots of countries destroyed the salt production facility of the cities they have sieged for breaking their resistance and became successful.

Salt was produced in saltworks located near the sea and lakes and underground salt beds in Ottoman Empire and it was a substance which was needed in industry, preserving the foods for long periods and daily consumption.  Saltworks were active in lots of different areas of the country and they were among the important items of Ottoman treasury.  Main saltworks were located at Cyprus, Becin (Menteşe Shire), Batnos (Aydın Shire), İzmir, Menemen, Rhodes, Çandarlı, Midilli, Kızılcatuzla, Enez Gümülcine, Thessaloniki, Ağrıboz, Mora, İnebahtı at Mediterranean Coast; Avlonya and Delvine at Adriatic Coast; Ahyolu Tekfurköyü at Black Sea cost; Koçhisar Lake, Hacıbektaş and Divriği in Anatolia; İzvornik in Rumelia, Moldovia, Wallachia, Transylvania and Raguza from vassal states and their income was located among the private treasure of the Sultan or among the income items of higher officers.

Salt was among the important income items for the state and used to be exported to Europe from Syria and İzmir ports. Since rivers, mines, lakes and seas were counted as state property, the ownership of the saltworks was belong to the state.  Due to this reason the salt produced in such places counted as the state property.  “The goods are mine, not to whom they are issued so shall it be elaborated.” Due to the importance of the saltworks salt makers were exempted from some taxes.

The state was extremely meticulous throughout the process from the opening of saltworks to the salt production and the work started by considering all kinds of possibilities.  If it was believed that the saltworks to be opened would be effective and profitable the production was allowed.  After the saltworks were opened all the transactions from the production to the sale were put into an order. It used to be determined which saltworks to sell which areas and no other sales were allowed.  However if the products of any saltworks are decreased due to extreme weather conditions so as to not to meet the demand, the products of the other saltworks could be sold in the area of said saltworks.  Salt sales of the saltworks, transportation, storage of salt were carried out within the scope of some rules.  Large part of the salt was sold at saltworks, exported salt was sold at exportation gate, some of it was sold in divans with sales sections and retail salt stores in the cities.  Distribution of the salt was carried out by the tradesmen. These people brought the salt they bought to İstanbul and deliver it to the Salt fiduciary.  These authorities then enabled the correct operation of the next phase of the process. The distribution of the salt which was brought to İstanbul was carried out in accordance with a certain order.