In the history of warfare, currency is the best way to reward an army for braving the fires of battle. Just like today, a warrior must also weigh the pros and cons of life as a professional warrior. Feeding a family, housing and retiring are real issues for a soldier at any time in history. Our own military makes solving these problems a core reason to join us. Uncle Sam also adds the GI Bill and so many benefits and privileges for those who serve their contracts with honor. The United States wants decent troops, which is exactly how Rome paid for its legions.
When you hear of salt, you most likely think of the most commonly used food seasoning. Salt was once a precious commodity and was even used as a means of payment. For example, Roman troops received part of their pay in salt. It is claimed that this is where the name soldier comes from, which means to supply salt in Latin. We also got the term wage, or “salarium,” from the same derivation. The value of salt was renowned because it was a rare and precious commodity. Before the invention of the refrigerator, salt was used in the preservation of meat and fish. Roman soldiers accepted it as payment because of this, but also accepted other forms of payment. There were things salt couldn’t buy; therefore, other payments were also made.
British salt production was well established before the era of Roman conquest in a number of coastal locations as well as inland salt springs in Cheshire and Worcestershire. The establishment of military salt factories satisfied the need for salt, a crucial supply for the Roman army. Indoors, making salt from evaporating lightly salty seawater required far more energy and time than using fully saturated organic brine.
By AD 60, Roman troops had advanced into Cheshire and erected military outposts. Chester served as a military stronghold and supply port, which facilitated the takeover of North Wales. A fort was built at Middlewich on a protective cliff above the River Dane, and it served as a command center for the main military route north. Between the army command center and the location of the pre-existing Celtic salt-making hamlet at Middlewich, the The Romans built their salt pans to complete their needs.
The salt obtained from these places was used to pay part of the wages of the troops. Salt played an important role in keeping soldiers in good shape. Troops that lacked the goods often suffered death due to salt deficiency. Roman troops received a handful of salt as a reward for their daily work. This is the root of the proverb “to be worthy of the name”. The salt allowance also increased with each subsequent rank.
As much as salt was a precious commodity, it was not the only form of payment for the troops. Silver is king and in the case of the Romans, gold. Roman politics was sometimes the literal interpretation of cloak and dagger. Anyone, scholar or not, who could afford an army could be very political. However, history has repeatedly shown that money alone is not enough to win wars.