Saturday, January 22, 2011

Call me Saltman

What do you know about salt?

It's been really fascinating to read about the world history of salt. Mark Kurlansky has revealed the role salt has played in the shaping of the most crucial events of cultures for thousands of years. Who knew salt was so influential? His book Salt is a must read for world history buffs. 

Prior to refrigeration, salt was a primary tool for preserving meats, especially fish. This was a big industry in the ancient world, as well as the medieval and during the Industrial Revolution. Still is in many parts of the world.  The country with the best salt mines and marshes had opportunity for immense wealth and power. Food is so essential to life (duh!), and most everybody who has ever lived has really liked their food better with salt. Salt is essential for feeding your livestock. Salt is also important for caring for wounds and infections. 

World history has always been interesting to me. But I've never read about the centrality of salt to the rise and fall of economies, of empires, of armies. In America, during the Civil War, salt production was a key factor in the weakening of the South's strength. The Union would regularly target their few salt works and shipments- most famous was the blockade of New Orleans. 

Interesting trivia - in England a town name that ended with wich was one with a saltworks: Dunwich, Ipswich, Horwich, Droitwich, Middlewich, Nantwich, Leftwich, Northwich, and Sandwich (yes, the place where we get the famous bread/meat lunch menu item!). 

The one detail that was personally very interesting was the connection of salt to my family name. There's been lots of speculation of the origins to Hallman. The most common account is that it comes from the days that our family manned the halls of the wealthy. Something like that. But in Salt (starting with page 54), I've come across an even more likely story. 

The salt mines found in the region of Austria were manned by many Celts during the Roman Empire. What do you think the Celtic word for salt is? Hall. Quite a few towns in that region of Europe start with the word Hall - because it was founded due to its saltworks. Hallein being the most famous. See also Halle. And Hallstatt

A lot of Hallman's claim to have German roots. What seems more likely is that we have Celtic origins, we worked the saltmines of the Hallein region, and earned the name saltman, or hallman. With migration and evershifting boundaries of nations, Celtic Hallmans became German. And we became farmers that emigrated to Pennsylvania and Ontario. And eventually Fort Wayne!

A Hallman was a Saltman. Finally - the elusive answer my family has been wondering about for ages! Thanks Mr. Kurlansky for the clues!

No comments: