Jump to content
UNRV Ancient Roman Empire Forums
Sign in to follow this  

Salty Myths (Part I)

Recommended Posts



In an article by Kevin Williamson in “National Review” magazine, he gives a link to two articles dealing with the great salt myths in Roman history.



First, there is the powerful myth that after Rome defeated Carthage in 146 BCE, the Roman General Scipio Aemilianus ploughed the city over and salted the surrounding earth to make a once fertile region into an uninhabitable desert.

Peter Gainsford, a classicist based in New Zealand and known as the Kiwi Hellenist, easily exposes the myth.



First, it never made sense to me to utterly destroy an area (by plowing it over) and make it barren (by salting the ground), only to develop the area later into a thriving agricultural and trading region in the Roman Empire.


Second, salt would have been considered a valuable commodity in ancient Rome and wasting it on the ground made little sense, even though the salt may have been readily available.


Then, there is the problem of logistics with salting over a large area:


The amount of salt required to make it infertile, then, could be up to 7.63 × 108 kg, or 763,210 tonnes. Standard Roman merchant ships in the Republican era could carry between 70 and 150 tonnes. So to transport this much salt you'd need a fleet of somewhere between 5000 and 10,000 ships, all packed to the brim with salt.

That is a lot of effort and expense to make a point.


There is no ancient source for Carthage to be plowed and salted over. So where did this myth begin? Gainsford explains it was a creation of late 18th century and 19th century historians and widely accepted till the 1980s.

But the myth may have gotten its true genesis earlier from the 13th century:


In fact the ploughing myth goes back a lot further. In 1299 Pope Boniface VIII personally reported how he demolished the city of Palestrina, as part of his feud with the Colonna family, as follows: 'I subjected it to the plough, following the example of Carthage of old in Africa'. He goes on, 'we also made salt in it, and commanded that it be sown over, so that it should have neither the condition, nor name, nor title of a city.'

So, the plowing over of Carthage and later salting the region may have been only a myth after all.


guy also known as gaius

Edited by guy

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

  • Map of the Roman Empire