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Salt and the Roman Empire

As far back as 600 BC, salt has been an important and integral part of world history. Salt was highly valued and its production was legally restricted in ancient times, so it was historically used as a method of trade and currency. From the beginning of the Roman Empire to the present day, Via Salaria in Rome has been a very active road. The name Salaria is taken from the Latin word salarium, whose root – sal, means salt. The road was named for the route that was taken by the Sabines who obtained salt from the marshland at the mouth of the Tiber River.

The road ran from Porta Salaria in Rome to Porto d’Ascoli on the Adriatic coast, a distance of 150 miles. It passed through the towns of Rieti and Ascoli Piceno and was one of many ancient salt roads in Europe.   Salt was very high in demand and the salt trade was highly lucrative. The Roman soldiers guarding the salt, as well as the workers and the toll collectors on the roads, were paid in this valuable commodity. This is the derivation of the term salary. The word salad also originated from the Latin word sal and began during the days of Rome when the wealthy and elite would sprinkle salt on their leafy greens and vegetables.

Back in Roman times, each day’s salary was a ‘good handful of salt.’ The equivalent of a year’s salary was about 130 pounds. The expression ‘to be worth one’s salt’ meant that the individual was competent and deserved to be paid what he earned. Even though you might still hear the expression today, salt is considerably cheaper, so in literal terms, someone who weighs 150 pounds would be worth about $7.50!