Roman salt production in the civitas Menapiorum (2018-2022)

Salt of the north. An interdisciplinary study of Roman salt production, distribution and consumption in the civitas Menapiorum, PhD research Michiel Dekoninck

Altar (from Colijnsplaat) dedicated to Nehalennia by negotiator salarius (salt merchant) Marcus Exgingius Agricola from Cologne. © Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden

In the civitas Menapiorum (northern France, Belgium and the SW part of the Netherlands), a significant number of epigraphic (e.g. salinatores­-inscriptions, Nehalennia-altars) and archaeological sources point to the presence of a well-developed salt industry who played a crucial role in the economic development of the proposed research area. Over the years, starting from the early 20th cent. onward, multiple production sites have been excavated, but although the data is of good quality and still available, none of these sites were fully studied nor published, causing the research area to form a ‘blind spot’ within international academic synthesis on salt-works.

Consequently, no new data were generated to corroborate the old hypotheses on the production process of salt-making on the northern continental shores of Rome. In view of the quantity and quality of the data and methods currently available, we feel the time has come to integrate the Menapian civitas in the international debate of Roman salt production.

The central objective of this BOF-funded research is to study how salt as a basic resource was extracted from the sea in this remote and climatologically hostile environment of the Roman Empire, and how it was distributed to and used by various social groups further inland. Answering this question would significantly contribute to the scientific debate on the economy of an ill-known region of the Roman Empire, and more importantly, to the field of study centered on Roman mineralogical resource exploitation and distribution.

 

To achieve this goal, we defined three research aims:

  1. Analyzing the salt production sites in the coastal landscape of the civitas Menapiorum.
  2. Studying the technological process of salt production through the analysis of the archaeological remains and archaeological experiments.
  3. Examining the distribution pattern of briquetage pottery (and hence salt) in the hinterland and analyzing the consumption patterns of various social groups (the army, rural and urban populations).

Salt production ovens from Leffinge. © Hugo Thoen

Contact

Michiel Dekoninck

Prof. dr. Wim De Clercq

prof. dr. Koenraad Verboven