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Salt of the North : an interdisciplinary study into the technical and social organisation of roman salt production in the civitas Menapiorum (Gallia-Belgica)

(2023)
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Abstract
Salt archaeology has become increasingly popular in the last decades, and researchers worldwide strive to understand how salt was extracted, distributed and consumed by past communities. This dissertation contributes to this still-expanding international field of research by studying the salt production process's technical and social organisation in a remote northern part of the Roman Empire: the civitas Menapiorum (part of the modern-day southern North Sea coast). From the nineteenth century onwards, epigraphic evidence led historians and archaeologists to assume a thriving salt trade in this area. Gradually, more archaeological data emerged in the coastal area pointing towards important salt production activities in the Menapian civitas. Yet, these Roman saltmaking activities have only received fragmented attention. This dissertation addresses this problem and, more specifically, focuses on two topics: (1) the technical reconstruction of the salt production activities and (2) the identification of the social actors involved in organising said activities. This was achieved by thoroughly assessing all salt productionrelated evidence discovered during prospections or excavations in the Menapian coastal plain. By analysing the archaeological sites and the material culture found on them, it became apparent that the way salt was produced drastically changed in the study area towards the end of the second century CE. Two chronologically distinct phases (first – early second century and late second – early third century) exist in which the production process clearly differed by the technological choices made by the salt producers. These choices significantly impact but also reflect the socio-cultural and economic sphere in which the activities took place. In the first phase (first – early second century CE), salt production boomed in the northern part of the civitas Menapiorum, and the production process was firmly rooted in the local Iron Age traditions. This phase is characterised by the use of briquetage material that gradually increased in size and the occurrence of isolated, individual hearths to evaporate the brine. At these sites, small-scale salt production was probably organised on a more ‘domestic’ level in which the entire (extended) family worked together to complete the variety of tasks necessary to produce salt. Other actors involved in the social organisation are the salinatores. Although the precise role of these salinatores is still controversial, we propose that they were ‘tax farmers’ specifically tasked to collect some of the produced salt in kind as part of the overarching civitas tax. Whatever their role, the salinatoresinscriptions also pointed towards an important relation between Menapian salt and the Roman military. This relationship was probably a major incentive to the local population to further develop the ‘salt industry’ in the area. After the tumultuous political-economical mid-second century, the way salt was produced drastically changed in the Menapian civitas. In this second phase (late second – early third century CE), new sites appeared that are characterised by a hearth battery of multiple adjacent heating structures and a transition towards metal evaporation pans. These innovations required aconsiderable upscale in salt production activities also signals a transition towards a more complex production system. Consequently, these new late second-century production sites might be considered a ‘workshop industry’ where skilled labourers worked together on a ‘full-time’ basis to produce salt. These innovations were implemented by private businessmen or negotiatores with the necessary capital to invest in salt production sites. Their incentive could have derived from a need to increase the local productivity to fulfil their contractual obligations with the Roman army. Yet, the introduction of this new way of producing salt did not lead to a breakdown of the briquetage technique. The old and the new production process coexisted well into the third century CE. However, this ‘golden age’ lasted not long, and the Menapian salt production collapsed by the end of the third century. All in all, this dissertation contributed to our understanding of the technical and social organisation of the salt production process and showed that salt formed the motor of the Menapian coastal economy.
Keywords
salt, salt production, chaîne opératoire, briquetage, social organisation, technological change, salt merchants, archaeology, archaeometry, North Sea, coastal wetlands, civitas Menapiorum, Belgium, Zeeland, Northern Gaul

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Citation

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MLA
Dekoninck, Michiel. Salt of the North : An Interdisciplinary Study into the Technical and Social Organisation of Roman Salt Production in the Civitas Menapiorum (Gallia-Belgica). Ghent University. Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, 2023.
APA
Dekoninck, M. (2023). Salt of the North : an interdisciplinary study into the technical and social organisation of roman salt production in the civitas Menapiorum (Gallia-Belgica). Ghent University. Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Ghent, Belgium.
Chicago author-date
Dekoninck, Michiel. 2023. “Salt of the North : An Interdisciplinary Study into the Technical and Social Organisation of Roman Salt Production in the Civitas Menapiorum (Gallia-Belgica).” Ghent, Belgium: Ghent University. Faculty of Arts and Philosophy.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Dekoninck, Michiel. 2023. “Salt of the North : An Interdisciplinary Study into the Technical and Social Organisation of Roman Salt Production in the Civitas Menapiorum (Gallia-Belgica).” Ghent, Belgium: Ghent University. Faculty of Arts and Philosophy.
Vancouver
1.
Dekoninck M. Salt of the North : an interdisciplinary study into the technical and social organisation of roman salt production in the civitas Menapiorum (Gallia-Belgica). [Ghent, Belgium]: Ghent University. Faculty of Arts and Philosophy; 2023.
IEEE
[1]
M. Dekoninck, “Salt of the North : an interdisciplinary study into the technical and social organisation of roman salt production in the civitas Menapiorum (Gallia-Belgica),” Ghent University. Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Ghent, Belgium, 2023.
@phdthesis{01GXWYMQRGMMXQD9WCZCKPMCGC,
  abstract     = {{Salt archaeology has become increasingly popular in the last decades, and researchers worldwide
strive to understand how salt was extracted, distributed and consumed by past communities. This
dissertation contributes to this still-expanding international field of research by studying the salt
production process's technical and social organisation in a remote northern part of the Roman
Empire: the civitas Menapiorum (part of the modern-day southern North Sea coast). From the
nineteenth century onwards, epigraphic evidence led historians and archaeologists to assume a
thriving salt trade in this area. Gradually, more archaeological data emerged in the coastal area
pointing towards important salt production activities in the Menapian civitas. Yet, these Roman saltmaking
activities have only received fragmented attention.
This dissertation addresses this problem and, more specifically, focuses on two topics: (1) the
technical reconstruction of the salt production activities and (2) the identification of the social actors
involved in organising said activities. This was achieved by thoroughly assessing all salt productionrelated
evidence discovered during prospections or excavations in the Menapian coastal plain.
By analysing the archaeological sites and the material culture found on them, it became apparent
that the way salt was produced drastically changed in the study area towards the end of the second
century CE. Two chronologically distinct phases (first – early second century and late second – early
third century) exist in which the production process clearly differed by the technological choices
made by the salt producers. These choices significantly impact but also reflect the socio-cultural and
economic sphere in which the activities took place.
In the first phase (first – early second century CE), salt production boomed in the northern part of
the civitas Menapiorum, and the production process was firmly rooted in the local Iron Age traditions.
This phase is characterised by the use of briquetage material that gradually increased in size and the
occurrence of isolated, individual hearths to evaporate the brine. At these sites, small-scale salt
production was probably organised on a more ‘domestic’ level in which the entire (extended) family
worked together to complete the variety of tasks necessary to produce salt. Other actors involved in
the social organisation are the salinatores. Although the precise role of these salinatores is still
controversial, we propose that they were ‘tax farmers’ specifically tasked to collect some of the
produced salt in kind as part of the overarching civitas tax. Whatever their role, the salinatoresinscriptions
also pointed towards an important relation between Menapian salt and the Roman
military. This relationship was probably a major incentive to the local population to further develop
the ‘salt industry’ in the area.
After the tumultuous political-economical mid-second century, the way salt was produced
drastically changed in the Menapian civitas. In this second phase (late second – early third century
CE), new sites appeared that are characterised by a hearth battery of multiple adjacent heating
structures and a transition towards metal evaporation pans. These innovations required aconsiderable upscale in salt production activities also signals a transition towards a more complex
production system. Consequently, these new late second-century production sites might be
considered a ‘workshop industry’ where skilled labourers worked together on a ‘full-time’ basis to
produce salt. These innovations were implemented by private businessmen or negotiatores with the
necessary capital to invest in salt production sites. Their incentive could have derived from a need to
increase the local productivity to fulfil their contractual obligations with the Roman army. Yet, the
introduction of this new way of producing salt did not lead to a breakdown of the briquetage
technique. The old and the new production process coexisted well into the third century CE. However,
this ‘golden age’ lasted not long, and the Menapian salt production collapsed by the end of the third
century.
All in all, this dissertation contributed to our understanding of the technical and social
organisation of the salt production process and showed that salt formed the motor of the Menapian
coastal economy.}},
  author       = {{Dekoninck, Michiel}},
  keywords     = {{salt,salt production,chaîne opératoire,briquetage,social organisation,technological change,salt merchants,archaeology,archaeometry,North Sea,coastal wetlands,civitas Menapiorum,Belgium,Zeeland,Northern Gaul}},
  language     = {{eng}},
  pages        = {{XXX, 480}},
  publisher    = {{Ghent University. Faculty of Arts and Philosophy}},
  school       = {{Ghent University}},
  title        = {{Salt of the North : an interdisciplinary study into the technical and social organisation of roman salt production in the civitas Menapiorum (Gallia-Belgica)}},
  year         = {{2023}},
}