Salt Caravans in Africa and China
Welcome to Quatr.us Study Guides!

Salt Caravans

November 2016 - By 252 BC, a Chinese governor named Li Bing also figured out how to mine salt. People dug deep pits down to where there were natural underground salt water pools, and forced the salty water out through bamboo pipes.

People in China generally didn't sprinkle salt on their food the way you do. Instead, they mixed salt and soybeans to make soy sauce. They also used salt to make pickled vegetables - not just cucumbers, but all kinds of vegetables. That was the only way to keep them from rotting. The ancient Egyptians also used salt to pickle vegetables, especially olives. And the ancient Greeks and Romans used salt to make a fermented fish sauce called garum.

Because everyone needed salt, but only a few people could produce it, salt was something everybody bought. So governments began to tax it, to raise a lot of money. Both the Han Dynasty and the T'ang Dynasty, in China, got a lot of their money from the salt trade. As the Roman Empire expanded, the Romans took over the Celtic salt mines, and used that salt to help feed poor people in Rome, or to raise money (for example to pay for the Punic Wars).

Timbuktu
The walls of Timbuktu

In the Sassanid Empire (modern Iran), about 200 AD, men also worked in salt mines - some men who apparently died in those mines have recently been dug up.

When people began to use camels for trade caravans across the Sahara Desert to West Africa, about 1000 AD, merchants brought salt across the desert on the backs of the camels. Caravans of up to 40,000 camels carried salt from Sfax and North Africa south to West Africa, and sold the salt in Timbuktu. The merchants used the salt money to buy slaves, gold, kola nut, and cotton from West Africa. Then they forced the slaves to mine even more salt.

Learn by doing: try putting soy sauce on some rice
More about slavery

Bibliography and further reading about salt:

From Sea to Salt, by Robin Nelson (2003).

Salt: A World History, by Mark Kurlansky (2003). The writing's a little disjointed, but he sure knows a lot about salt, and he gives enough context so you can see why salt is important.

Salt of the Desert Sun : A History of Salt Production and Trade in the Central Sudan, by Paul E. Lovejoy (2003). About African salt production.

More history of salt
Quatr.us home


For Presidents' Day, check out our articles about Washington in the Revolutionary War and Lincoln in the Civil War. Find out about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the other Amendments, and how Washington promised to include freedom of religion.
Please help other teachers and students find us: link to this page from your class page.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
Cite this page
  • Author: K.E. Carr
  • Title:
  • Site Name: Quatr.us Study Guides
  • Publisher: Quatr.us
  • Date Published:
Proud of your class page, homework page, or resource page? Send it in and win a Quatr.us "Great Page!" award!
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in Quatr.us' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Comment on This Article

Cool stuff we've been enjoying: Looking for birthday gifts? Check out these new Chromebooks - all the computer you need for only $229.00!. Then study in peace with these Beats wireless headphones - for the exact same price! When you're done, show off your presentation or watch a movie with this excellent smartphone projector for only $39.99!


Does your class page honor diversity, celebrate feminism, and support people of color, LBGTQ people, and people with disabilities? Let us know, and we'll send you a Diversity Banner you can proudly display!
Looking for more?
ADVERTISEMENT
Quatr.us is loading comments...
(Comments will appear after moderation, if they are kind and helpful. Feel free to ask questions, and we'll try to answer them.)
Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Quatr.us Study Guides, . Web. 22 February, 2017
ADVERTISEMENT