In ancient times, salt was essential to preserve food and maintain people’s health. Humans require salt in their diet as through sweating their body loses salt every day. If this salt isn't replaced then the resulting sodium deficiency can cause weakness, fatigue, vomiting, dizziness, shock, and even death.
A salt tax was a tax levied on the purchase of salt. The first salt tax was levied in ancient China in 300 BC and was used to fund the construction of the Great Wall of China. Due to salt’s scarcity and importance, the salt tax was extremely lucrative and contributed 50% of China’s Government revenues at one stage.
Although generally despised by their citizens, throughout history, many countries have levied salt taxes to raise government revenue. Historically, salt has been the most taxed commodity.
The most notable salt taxes include:
- Roman Empire – The first of the great Roman roads, the Via Salaria, or Salt Road, was built for transporting salt.
- France - The French Gabelle (salt tax) was a contributing factor to the French Revolution.
- India - The British salt tax in India contributed to the Indian independence movement. Mahatma Gandhi protested against the salt tax with the Salt March.
- Russia – The Russian salt tax led to the Moscow uprising of 1648.
The salt tax was most commonly avoided by smuggling salt from countries with no salt tax. Ireland, for example, had no salt tax, so Irish salt was smuggled across to England.