“A kilo of gold for a kilo of salt?”

Today, salt may seem like a very ordinary and inexpensive product, but for thousands of years, it has been one of humanity’s most coveted commodities, primarily due to its preserving properties. Abû Hamid al-Gharnatî, a traveler from the 12th century, tells us how North African merchants crossed the Sahara laden with salt. Upon reaching the south, these traders exchanged the salt for its weight in gold (sometimes even double). However, this is likely an exaggeration. The true nature and extent of these caravan transactions between the north and south still raise many questions.

A fragment from the Catalan Atlas by Abraham Cresques (circa 1375).

“[…] the merchants follow a route that traverses immense sand plains, akin to the sea, and they are guided by experts who navigate the desert by the stars and the contours of the mountains. They carry enough provisions for six months. Upon reaching Ghana, they exchange salt for its weight in gold – sometimes double or even more, depending on the number of merchants.” (Abû Hamid al-Gharnatî, 12th century).