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Have Salt Prices Ever Outpaced Gold?

Clients who read our blog love to tell us little-known facts about precious metals. One we’ve heard a few times (and perhaps you have as well) is “Did you know that salt used to be more valuable than gold in ancient times?” Can that really be true?

There’s no disputing that salt was a valuable commodity hundreds of years ago. Even today, salt’s association with value persists in our language. The word “salary” is derived from the Latin salarium, which was the term for a Roman soldier’s earned ration of salt. Idiomatically, to be “worth your salt” is to have earned the payment or resources you’ve been given.

But from a logical standpoint, the price of salt exceeding the price of gold (at ANY point in history) just doesn’t make sense. Salt was a plentiful mineral that ancient civilizations easily obtained by evaporating seawater and certain types of spring water, or from bountiful salt mines. Conversely, gold was exceedingly rare and required great effort to find, mine, and refine. It was because of these intrinsic qualities that gold was literal currency back then.
Recorded history also soundly refutes the myth that salt was more valuable than gold. YouTube historian Lindybeige cites Venetian trade documents from the height of the salt trade in 1590 that establish the value of 1 ton of salt as 33 gold ducats. That is, 1 ducat for the salt itself and 32 to cover the transportation, taxation, and profit on the sale.  

So while the demand for salt and/or the size of the salt trade may have outpaced that of gold, gold prices have always been higher than salt prices. If you want to see this price disparity in the modern age, you can use our Precious Metal Prices app to look up the price gold the next time you go grocery shopping!

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