Well here you go . . . During the Roman Empire salt was a commodity and it was usually used to preserve food. There were two ways to obtain salt – the sea and mines – both of which were difficult therefore creating an alluring desire for salt. It is believed that the Roman army was paid for a job well done with salt – hence the term “worth their salt”. Some believe they were paid great sums to they could purchase this commodity which was quite pricey.
In these ancient times, “salt” roads were built to transport salt from the sea or mines to cities. Many cities gained great status by the amount of salt they produced. Salzburg, Austria had many mines and was named “the city of salt”. Salz is German for salt.
In the Middle Ages, it was common for the everyone to eat together at a 30' foot table. The salt cellar was placed mid-way down the table and used as a type of ranking system. If you were close to the “head” of the table you were “above the salt” and could partake. If you were seated “below the salt” you were not allowed to use the salt.
Salt was so valuable that it could even be used as payment for slaves during the late Roman Empire.
In the Bible, “you are the Salt of the Earth” is used as a metaphor and meant that someone was of value to society. We still use this phrase today!
Salt had power. Cities producing salt seemed to be more affluent. Some cities charged taxes for the use of their roads to transport salt.
While salt had a lot of influence over in Europe, the United States also had its share of “salt” incidences. During the Revolutionary War, salt was intercepted by the British which interfered with the ability to preserve food. Salt brine was used as a form of payment to the soldiers in the War of 1812.
Salt cellars usually had lids to keep the salt dry. “Open salts” were mainly used on the tables by wealthy families from the Middle Ages through WWII. They were usually made out of silver or glass. Sometimes there was a master salt that would be passed down the table to the worthy guests or family members.
So the next time you visit an antique store, be sure to cherish the history of salt and ask yourself “where would you be sitting during meals --below or above the salt?”