The Most Absurd Lie Ever Told About Salt

Image: Shutterstock

Salt. It shows up in our idioms about as often as our food. Even the word salary is derived from salarium, the term for a Roman soldier’s earned ration of salt. But one of the most ridiculous lies perpetuated about this humble mineral is that in ye olden days, salt was more valuable than gold due to its function in food preservation. YouTube historian Lindybeige explains how this is all just a big misunderstanding.

According to trade documents from Venice in 1590, 33 gold ducats would buy you a ton of salt (ton the unit of measure, not the hyperbolic large quantity). Similar figures exist from ancient Egypt showing that, no, salt was never worth more than gold. Duh. With the obvious stuff out of the way, there’s a reasonable explanation for the gold < salt notion.

Advertisement

The same Venetian trade documents reveal something interesting about the demand for salt: only one of those 33 ducats actually equated to the cost of the salt itself. The rest went towards transportation, tax, and profit. And people paid it gladly because salt was a necessity for survival. Those enormous markups suggest that at one point in time the salt trade was probably more valuable than the gold industry.

So the next time someone says “salt used to be worth more than gold” you can pedantically explain to them that they’re right, but not for the incredibly stupid reason they’re suggesting.

SPLOID is delicious brain candy. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Share This Story

About the author

Bryan Menegus

Senior reporter. Tech + labor /// bryan.menegus [at] gizmodo.com Keybase: keybase.io/bryangm Securedrop: http://gmg7jl25ony5g7ws.onion/

TwitterPosts
PGP Fingerprint: 1905 9104 D967 2EB7 C3F5 68F9 9108 1434 C917 C1B9