As a precious and portable commodity, salt has long been a cornerstone of economies throughout history. In fact, researcher M.R. Bloch conjectured that civilization began along the edges of the desert because of the natural surface deposits of salt found there. Bloch also believed that the first war - likely fought near the ancient city of Essalt on the Jordan River - could have been fought over the city's precious salt supplies.
In 2200 BC, the Chinese emperor Hsia Yu levied one of the first known taxes. He taxed salt. In Tibet, Marco Polo noted that tiny cakes of salt were pressed with images of the Grand Khan and used as coins. Salt is still used as money among the nomads of Ethiopia's Danakil Plains.
Greek slave traders often bartered salt for slaves, giving rise to the expression that someone was "not worth his salt." Roman legionnaires were paid in salt - a salarium, the Latin origin of the word "salary."
Merchants in 12th-Century Timbuktu - the gateway to the Sahara Desert and the seat of scholars - valued salt as highly as books and gold.
In France, Charles of Anjou levied the "gabelle," a salt tax, in 1259 to finance his conquest of the Kingdom of Naples. Outrage over the gabelle fueled the French Revolution. Though the revolutionaries eliminated the tax shortly after Louis XIV fell, the Republic of France reestablished the gabelle in the early 19th Century; only in 1946 was it removed from the books.
The Erie Canal, an engineering marvel that connected the Great Lakes to New York's Hudson River in 1825, was called "the ditch that salt built." Salt tax revenues paid for half the cost of construction of the canal.
The British monarchy supported itself with high salt taxes, leading to a bustling black market for the white crystal. In 1785, the earl of Dundonald wrote that every year in England, 10,000 people were arrested for salt smuggling. Protesting British rule in 1930, Mahatma Gandhi led a 200-mile march to the Arabian Ocean to collect untaxed salt for India's poor.
The Salt Satyagraha was a campaign of non-violent protest against the British salt tax in colonial India which began with the Salt March to Dandi on March 12, 1930. It was the first act of organized opposition to British rule after Purna Swaraj, the declaration of independence by the Indian National Congress. Mahatma Gandhi led the Dandi march from his Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi, Gujarat to make salt, with growing numbers of Indians joining him along the way. When Gandhi broke the salt laws in Dandi at the conclusion of the march on April 6, 1930, it sparked large scale acts of civil disobedience against the British Raj salt laws by millions of Indians.
Gandhi was arrested on May 5, 1930, just days before his planned raid on the Dharasana Salt Works. The Dandi March and the ensuing Dharasana Satyagraha drew worldwide attention to the Indian independence movement through extensive newspaper and newsreel coverage. The satyagraha against the salt tax continued for almost a year, ending with Gandhi's release from jail and negotiations with Viceroy Lord Irwin at the Second Round Table Conference. Over 80,000 Indians were jailed as a result of the Salt Satyagraha. The campaign had a significant effect on changing world and British attitudes toward Indian independence, and caused large numbers of Indians to actively join the fight for the first time, but failed to win major concessions from the British.
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