Salt – more valuable than gold?

Salt – more valuable than gold?

Salt in the ancient and medieval worlds was far more important and more prominent in people’s minds than it is today They used it for an awful lot of things. They didn’t just put it in their food, they used it for preserving food, they used it for dyeing cloth, and for cleaning and so forth. It was one of their more common chemicals. It had lots and lots of uses and people used quite a lot of it. And you may have heard that certain expressions in the English language come from salt, for instance to be ‘beneath the salt’, meaning to dine on the lower tables, where the upper tables were given salt cellars So they could sprinkle any amount of salt on their food as they wished, in the modern fashion. The people beneath the salt didn’t have that luxury and just had to accept the amount of salt that had been put in their food by the chefs. To be ‘worth your salt’ is to be worth, if you like, your salt ration – to have earned the the the resources that you’re being given – your pay and so forth, to be any good at your job, to be worth your salt, and the modern word ‘salary’ in English comes from the Latin ‘salarium’. A salarium was your your ration of salt, so soldiers might regularly queue up for their salarium, their regular… you may call it payment, but it was their salt ration. It wasn’t exactly their wages but one of the perks of doing the job that you did might be that you’d get a salarium – a regular dose of salt. So that’s where we get the word ‘salary’ from, so there are a lot of reasons to associate The word salt with money. Now, there’s something that I have heard so many times. If you’ve been interested in history for any length of time you will probably have heard someone say this at some point to you. “Did you know in the olden days salt was more valuable than gold?” Well, I’m here to say… No it wasn’t. It was never more valuable than gold. Let’s think about it for a moment. Gold. Gold is extremely rare. It’s used for coinage. It exists usually in minuscule quantities, and by and large you have to go to a hell of a lot of effort to dig it up, to pan out of a river, to find it. It’s really difficult to get hold of, whereas salt in the ancient and medieval world, well… Have you ever heard of a sea called the ‘Mediterranean’? It has a very long coastline and there’s loads and loads of salt just in the water. All you have to do is evaporate the water and hey, presto! You’ve got a load of salt. Now, when I was in Malta recently, actually I was on the isle of Gozo, when I saw these pools of seawater that had collected quite naturally on the beach and they dried out, and you can see yes – there’s loads of salt in them. In order to get salt in Gozo all you have to do is go down to the beach or the rocky areas on the coast and just scoop some of it up. Nature’s done all the work for you. Getting a hold of gold is not anything like as easy as that, and people had ships so they can move stuff around. How is it possible that anyone could say that salt was more val-… Really dude you’re talking about salt? Do you have any idea what kind of salty comments, you’re gonna get for this trivial nonsense? You’re wasting people’s time. They could be curing cancer right now. You could be talking about something interesting! Yes, it’s true, it’s true. If I were to make a video about swords or spears or axes or something I would get at least three times, perhaps five times as many viewers as I get doing some other sort of historical video But I want to talk about things other, sometimes, than weapons and warfare But they won’t let you! It’s YouTube, so you have talk about something more engaging. Something that people actually give a crap about. Salt? Who discusses salt in detail? Well you want me to say about it? Yeah, okay, so… … it’s not actually the weapon itself. It’s the ammunition for a bit of weaponry… So you would need a bow and I do make the occasional video about bows, and will be making more. But on its own it’s not really a weapon. You’re not going to fence with it or stab someone with it- Oh, well that depends. It depends on if you’re doing it right. You have to use proper technique. If you want to stab with this, you have to make it more rigid by grabbing it in the centre. Basically it becomes half-arrowing. Yes, I suppose I use could some ‘half-arrowing’. But people carried knives. People carried knives pretty much as a standard Why don’t they just draw a knife and stab the guy? It would be a quicker and easier, and you would have to invent a term for it. Why am I not surprised that you don’t want to talk about arrows? What was the fire arrow video again that you were supposed to make? Yes! all right it’s true. It’s true. Okay? I haven’t made that video and I will soon. I will make that video soon. Honest! That’s what he says! But if you want to talk about stabbing then… How about a proper tool for that? What? You are threatening me now, are you? All right, well I can threaten you with a sword, only I think you’ll find that my sword is a little bit more formidable than yours. Are we gonna do this yeah? Okay, well if you want it that way… I’d say that my money is on me. Oh, right? Well, I can play this game too, you know? Yeah, very mature yeah a greatsword. Yeah a ‘great sword’ yeah. Well, actually in duelling I’m not so sure that a greatsword is so great. Okay, it’s bigger than a longsword, but bigger doesn’t necessary mean better in dueling. What you’re forgetting is the huge reach advantage. In order to get into my measure, I… Oh, I missed a bit Oh yes: salt, so… No, salt was not worth more than gold. In fact figures are readily available. For instance for Venice 1590 33 ducats would buy you a ton of salt. But how it breaks down… is quite interesting. You see, 33 ducats is an amount of gold that you could hold in your hand quite easily and a ton of Salt is well, it’s a ton of salt. You couldn’t get that in your hand. In fact gold was worth, based on that valuation, about eleven thousand times more than salt, but one ducat bought the merchant the salt. Three ducats he paid to have it shipped to Venice, and the rest was profit and tax. You see, people really needed salt, so they were prepared to pay quite a lot to get it. A typical person went through about a hundred pounds of salt per year. It’s not just eating the salt but using the various things that salt was used for. About a hundred pounds per person -most of it was used for food preservation. Now, when salt was taken inland, the mark-up was about 81% Yeah, so you could see how the salt trade… might have been worth more than the gold trade But no way was salt ever more expensive than gold. I did get another figure for A.D. 200 Egypt, and there, salt was only worth about two hundred and eighty three and a half times as much as gold, but it’s still hundreds of times more cheap than gold, so next time someone says to you, “And did you know that in the olden days? salt used to be more valuable than gold?” Say to them “No.” “Think about that for a moment will you?” “No.”


  1. Honestly, the salt part is more interesting to me than weapons talks, I've heard enough about swords. Videos on how to set up a medieval economy are where it's at.

  2. That co-working with u and skallagrim is the one of the few times where youtubers do this and it actually paid of

  3. Did you know that in ancient times the Celts would dip their arrowheads in molten salt? It would make them sting like a bitch if they hit you with one of them. No really. You ever get salt in a cut? Well then imagine salt in an ARROW WOUND. So there.

  4. It was pepper, not salt, and it wasn't worth more than gold, it was worth its weight in gold. As in an ounce of gold could only buy you an ounce of pepper.

  5. Obviously Skal is digital but I'm assuming their hight difference is about right (I know Mr. Beige is pretty tall but I'm not aware of Skal's height). Why does Skal come across as taller in YouTube videos?

  6. I seen a programme where they were saying that the myth of Eldorado came from a tribe in central South America who had a salt mine and sold it for gold and amassed a large amount of gold.

  7. World have been during the American war of independence that salt was almost the same value of gold, though far from.

  8. The RDA for sodium is < 2.3 g per day. That is less than a kilogram a year, or about 2 pounds. The requirement for sodium is about half a gram per day. However, this is for a modern American.

    For a medieval person running around outside all the time, salt losses from sweat would be significantly higher. An athlete doing hard training can lose approximately 4 g in four hours, more if they aren't acclimated, but medieval or ancient people would have been. Even if we multiply the cap by ten and assume they spent every minute of every day in hard exercise, a hundred pounds of salt per year would be far more than anyone needs for replacing losses; the rest clearly had to be used just to salt meals to taste, for preserving foods, and for any other manufacturing where salt was needed. For example, tanning leather consumes salt.

  9. "AD 200 Egypt and there salt was only worth 283 1/2 times as much as gold"!
    So salt was worth more than gold in those specific ancient times!

  10. If salt was more valuable than gold does that mean poor people would sprinkle and eat gold because they couldnt afford salt on their chips ?

  11. I think the idea that salt was more valuable than gold in the oldern times comes from the fact that it was used for so many things necessary for survival. Take food preservation for instance. You could own all the gold in the world, if you can't use it to buy what you need then it's worthless. Whereas the salt you can use to preserve whatever food you have on your own. So the value is I think more directed towards its direct contribution to survival rather than its monetary value

  12. Is Lloyd pulling out leg with the “Alexander the Great paid for the invasion of Lidia with just five mint leaves” , with an (admittedly) quick google I can’t find any agreeing statements, is this just a joke on how we’ll believe anything is more valuable than gold?

  13. That bit with the arrow passing between you made me take a double take and rewind to see where you actually pulled off the effect 😂

  14. Interesting, ish. It is certainly true that value of salt, smuggled on a daily basis, could vastly exceed the value of gold trafficked on a daily basis. I live in Brittany, and it was carried to central France on the backs of dogs, to evade customs duties.

  15. OK. Salt was not more valuable per mass or volume unit but on the whole all the salt around probably was and still is more valuable than all the gold around – right? And what about prehistorical real olden days? Salt was a valuable commodity vital for survival and gold was – what – a curiosity?

  16. I think by olden days its meant sometime around 250,000 years ago or maybe earlier. Anyhow sometime soon after man was descended from the primates. Just do an experiment with wild monkeys and you may soon find out the answer.

  17. Don't forget about brushing yout teeth with. Salt. It was done in the past and even by XX century people in times of need or if your favourite chocolate flavoured paste was'nt available.
    It actually works, you just use your finger instead of a brush and have a glass of water at hand

  18. the legions of Rome were actually paid in salt, commissions brought additional was an essential currency as well as commodity; sestertius in exchange for local coin ?(scarcer than you'd think in either case), but a pound of salt is a pound of salt.

  19. I belived the propsition was that there had been instances where salt and gold was swapped 1 to 1. Who would bring an expensive caravan carrying saøt from the maditerranian to south-Sahara, and then trade at Egyptian prices?

  20. The thing with the „more valuable than gold“ comes from the vast richness the organised salt „industrie“ was making. And that it was of more need for the ordinary people in their daily live than a piece of metal, they would almost never see.

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