top of page

Salt Shaped Civilization: From the Roman Empire to the French Revolution

From the very first settlement in recorded history, early humans knew that to survive in the new age of agriculture, they'd need two things: access to water, and a source of salt. Without salt, our meats and vegetables wouldn't last long enough to help us survive droughts, monsoons, and long periods between harvests. Our bodies wouldn't have the necessary nutrients to live, and the entire experiment in building permanent villages might have failed.

Salt tells the story of everything- as it was a foundational component of every culture, ever. And the lengths societies went to in order to procure the stuff... Well that gave us innovations ranging from commerce to hydraulics to so much more.

This video looks at the origins of the salt trade. The myths and legends surrounding its discovery, and the incredible stories from the earliest days of history all the way to the 20th century that have followed humanity's long and important love affair with salt.

Morton Salt Documentary

Produced by the Morton Salt Company, this vintage documentary needs no more spicing up! :) There is surely more to salt than what you might imagine. The original film was very faded to red, but the publisher managed to enhance it to what we could enjoy!

Some Popular Salt Idioms

Salt has a rich history and was once a precious commodity. In the times before refrigeration, it was highly sought after as an essential mineral to preserve food as well as for adding taste. Its importance led it to find its way into many idioms in the English language.


First of all, here are some commonly used idioms about salt:

  • Salt of the earth

A person who is the salt of the earth is very honest, kind-hearted, and reliable. The expression is very old and can even be found in the New Testament of the bible. In days gone by salt was considered to be very precious.

  • Rub salt into a wound

To rub salt into a wound is to make a person suffer more from something that is already bothering them. It can be done by reminding them of their faults or failures, or by bringing up a subject that they would rather forget. It can also be said as to pour salt into a wound.

This salt idiom also comes from ancient Rome when it was thought to be good practice to open any wounds on the body and clean them with salt. As you can imagine this could be quite painful!

  • Worth your salt

To be worth your salt is to deserve your job, position, or financial income. This is because you work hard and are good at something. This again comes from a time when salt was valuable. Interestingly, sal in Latin means salt, salarium (salt money), also Latin, is the origin of the English word salary.

Roman soldiers were paid a sum of salt money so that they could buy this mineral and stay physically healthy. At times they were even paid in salt. If a soldier wasn’t worth his salt, his salary was reduced.

  • With a grain of salt

To take something with a grain of salt is to not take it seriously or believe it completely. The information may not be trustworthy or accurate. This expression can also be said as to take it with a pinch or dash of salt and is more common in British English.

  • An old salt

An old salt is an old experienced sailor who knows what he is doing on a boat or at sea and has a lot of knowledge about these things. It is sometimes said as a salty dog.

  • Below the salt

A person who is below the salt has a low social status. Conversely, a person who is above the salt has a high status. This salt expression dates back to medieval times when salt was still expensive and found on the dining tables of upper-class, rich, and powerful people.

Where you sat in relation to the salt showed your place in society. The wealthy host would sit above the salt, showing their high status while more lowly guests and servants would sit at tables below the salt.

  • To be salty

To be salty is to be upset, annoyed, or angry about something.

  • Salty language

Salty language is coarse or bad language that is very impolite. A person who speaks like this can also be said to have a salty tongue.

  • A covenant of salt

A covenant of salt is an agreement or arrangement that lasts for a long time. Salt is a wonderful preservative so this does make good sense. This salt idiom is said to have originated in the Hebrew bible.

  • Back to the salt mines

To say that you are going back to the salt mines is saying that you are returning to work. It is a negative expression that means you don’t want to go back, you dislike the job, and it isn’t very good.

In the past, working in a salt mine was not a very luxurious job and was often done by slaves and prisoners. It was an actual punishment in Russia where people were sent to work in salt mines in Siberia.

  • The salt of the sea

To be the salt of the sea is to be important and an essential part of something. Just like the salt is a necessary part of the ocean.

  • To salt the mine

Salting or to salt the mine is to trick or deceive someone. This is done by planting false information or materials in order to increase something’s value or importance. Salting the books also means putting false information into an account, record, or receipt.

The origin of this idiom is unclear but there was a fascinating character in America’s wild west who became famous for this practice. In the late 1800s, a certain Chicken Bill gained infamy for salting mines with valuable ore from other places. After luring in and tricking prospectors by showing them fake deposits he would sell mines at an exaggerated price.

  • Throw salt on someone’s game

If you throw salt on someone’s game or salt their game, you disrupt and interfere with their plans. This idiom is often but not always used in relation to dating and trying to meet a partner.

  • Attic salt

Attic salt is sharp or dry wit and humor. This possibly came from another Latin expression. In classical times, the word salt was used as a metaphor for wit. Attica was the southeast region of ancient Greece surrounding Athens. A theory is that the people here were well-known for being witty.

  • Salt away

To salt away money is to save it and keep it in reserve for use in the future. You can also salt away other things such as food, keeping it in storage or safely in reserve for later.

  • Eat salt

To eat salt with somebody is a mainly British idiom that means to stay in their home.

  • Not enough sense to pound salt

Somebody who doesn’t have enough sense to pound salt is not very clever, is inept, and lacks common sense.

  • Hung up and salted

To have something hung up and salted is to know something extremely well and know everything about it.

  • Salt and pepper

Salt and pepper as an idiom is used to describe something that is a mixture of black, gray, and white. Most commonly, people use this salt expression to describe hair.

9 views0 comments


bottom of page