Where does the word salary come from?

where does the word salary come from

If you are a curious person, you may, from time to time, wonder where a word comes from. For example, do you know where the word salary comes from?

Whether you receive a paycheck, get paid for your work, or are looking for a job, how about we talk to you about the origin of the word? Has it always meant the same thing? We tell you.

We are going to Rome to understand where the word salary comes from

100 euro bills

To understand where the word salary comes from, it is essential to go to Roman times. And the word salary comes from the Latin "salarium." But contrary to what you may think, it does not refer so much to "money", but rather to salt.

In the Roman Empire, public officials, as well as soldiers, received pay for their work but also had a "salarium", understood as a portion of salt.

And why the salt? In reality, salt, along with vinegar and grain, were the provisions that soldiers received when they were active (when they carried out their raids and battles) and it was used above all to cure meat and fish (which was made salted) to prevent it from dehydrating or rotting over time.

So important was salt that it was considered "white gold." And if we take into account that there were no refrigerators or complex ways to preserve food, salt, along with vinegar and grain, were the most important thing for all families. In fact, it is known that the Roman Empire was able to control many salt mines and salt mines from which they were supplied and marketed at the same time.

Related to these salt mines and mines, routes were created through which salt was transported, and soldiers whose mission was to protect the roads from assaults or robberies. For their work, they not only received payment, but also had a portion of salt, like a packet, given to them as wages.

From salt to money

freelance working and receiving money

It may seem strange that the word salary comes from salt, although etymologically it is so. Some experts do not believe this because they think it was an invention that was created in the 18th and 19th centuries. that has lasted over time (without knowing for sure what the reality is).

But the truth is that, at some point, we had to move from salt to money as we know it now.

Salt, as you have seen, was a very important and essential good for diet and food preservation. It was not an expensive product, but it was valuable. Furthermore, we cannot say that all Romans received salt for their work. This is understood in a fragment of the Letters of Marcus Aurelius. At one point, when he refers to Clodius Albinus, he says (translated): "I have granted him double his pay, a simple military toga, but four times his rank's pay."

This means that for Rome the salarium was one thing, and the pay (stipendium) another. Which leads us to think that the soldiers did receive money for their work, which depended on their rank.; but, in addition, as if it were an extra, they received a separate salary that was paid with salt. Surely those who were destined to protect that Vía Salaria (through which the salt was transported).

From what we have learned, pay for soldiers in Rome was imposed by Camillus in 396 BC, corresponding to two obols a day if he was a normal soldier, and four if he was a centurion. The obolus was actually a silver coin that was minted in the Greek world. From these Greek coins (of which we already warned you that not only the obol but many others existed), the Roman ones were derived, the best known being the following:

  • Ace: bronze coin.
  • Sestercio: made first of silver and then of bronze.
  • Denarius: silver coin. Hence the solĭdus was a coin worth 25 denarii.
  • Aureo: gold coin that began to be used with Julius Caesar (49 BC).

The other theory of salary

Although the best-known theory of salary etymology refers to salt, the truth is that there is another different theory.

They propose that the word "salarium" be translated as "silver to buy salt", and not "of or pertaining to salt." In this way, soldiers and workers were paid with coins that they could later use to buy salt or other products.

There is no doubt that it is a more plausible theory (because it is not understood that a worker goes to work for salt and not coins), but as we tell you, it is something that cannot be affirmed.

Salary vs salary

happy man with salary

As you see, you already know where the word salary comes from. But the truth is that there are many ways to refer to the remuneration received for the work done. There is not only the word salary, but also salary, pay, remuneration, payroll...

One of those words is salary, and this one also comes from Roman times. In fact, The word from which it originated was “solĭdus” which was an ancient gold coin worth 25 denarii.

In fact, there are more words that come from Latin, such as remuneration, from remuneratio; pay, pacare (understand as something that is given to someone to calm them down and keep the peace). Also stipend (not so used anymore), which comes from stipendium and stips.

Taking into account everything you have read, we cannot confirm with certainty that the story of salt as a salary for soldiers and officials is true. Because it may have happened that everything was distorted. Coupled with the fact that there is no historical basis, or that there are really references to this, not everyone believes in that etymology. What do you think? What is the real story of where the word salary comes from?


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