Salt by Mark Kurlansky Read Free Book Online

Book: Salt by Mark Kurlansky Read Free Book Online
Authors: Mark Kurlansky
Tags: Ebook, book
apparently not lost on posterity. In the nineteenth century, when mummies from Saqqara and Thebes were taken from tombs and brought to Cairo, they were taxed as salted fish before being permitted entry to the city.

M ORE THAN A gastronomic development, the salting of fowl and especially of fish was an important step in the development of economies. In the ancient world, the Egyptians were leading exporters of raw foods such as wheat and lentils. Although salt was a valuable commodity for trade, it was bulky. By making a product with the salt, a value was added per pound, and unlike fresh food, salt fish, well handled, would not spoil. The Egyptians did not export great quantities of salt, but exported considerable amounts of salted food, especially fish, to the Middle East. Trade in salted food would shape economies for the next four millennia.
About 2800 B.C. , the Egyptians began trading salt fish for Phoenician cedar, glass, and purple dye made from seashells by a secret Phoenician formula. The Phoenicians had built a trade empire with these products, but, in time, they also traded the products of their partners, such as Egyptian salt fish and North African salt, throughout the Mediterranean.
Originally inhabiting a narrow strip of land on the Lebanese coast north of Mount Carmel, the Phoenicians were a mixture of races, only partly Semitic. They never fused into a homogenous nation. Culturally, other people, first the Egyptians and later the Greeks, dominated their way of life. But economically, they were a leading power operating from major ports such as Tyre.

Splitting and salt curing fish is illustrated in an Egyptian wall painting in the tomb of Puy-em-rê, Second Priest of Amun, circa 1450 B.C.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
They traded with everyone they encountered. When Solomon constructed a temple in Jerusalem, the Phoenicians provided both wood—their famous “cedars of Lebanon”—and craftsmen. In the Old Testament it is mentioned that Jerusalem fish markets were supplied from Tyre, and the fish they sold was probably salted fish, since fresh fish would have spoiled before reaching Jerusalem.
It is a Mediterranean habit to credit great food ideas to the Phoenicians. They are said to have spread the olive tree throughout the Mediterranean. The Spanish say the Phoenicians introduced chickpeas, a western Asian bean, to the western Mediterranean, though evidence of wild native chickpeas has been found in the Catalan part of southern France. Some French writers have said the Phoenicians invented bouillabaisse, which is probably not true, and the Sicilians say the Phoenicians were the first to catch bluefin tuna off their western coast, which probably is true. The Phoenicians also established a saltworks on the western side of the island of Sicily, near present-day Trapani, to cure the catch.
Ancient Phoenician coins with images of the tuna have been found near a number of Mediterranean ports. At the time, bluefin tuna, the swift, steel-blue-backed fish that is the largest member of the tuna family, might have attained sizes of over 1,500 pounds each, but this is according to ancient writers who also believed the fish fed on acorns. Seeking warmer water for spawning, bluefin leave the Atlantic Ocean, enter the Strait of Gibraltar, pass by North Africa and western Sicily, cruise past Greece, swim through the Bosporus and into the Black Sea. At all the points of land near the bluefin’s passage in the Mediterranean, the Phoenicians established tuna fisheries.
About 800 B.C. , when the Phoenicians first settled on the coast of what is today Tunisia, they founded a seaport, Sfax, which still prospers today. Sfax became, and has remained, a source of salt and salted fish for Mediterranean trade. The Phoenicians also founded Cadiz in southern Spain, from where they exported tin. Almost 2,500 years before the Portuguese mariners explored West Africa, the Phoenicians sailed from Cadiz through the Strait of Gibraltar

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