Salting the Earth

salting the earth by slug signorino

Salting the earth, or sowing with salt, is the ritual of spreading salt on conquered cities to symbolize a curse on their re-inhabitation. It originated as a practice in the ancient Near East and became a well-established folkloric motif in the Middle Ages. The custom of purifying or consecrating a destroyed city with salt and cursing anyone who dared to rebuild it was widespread in the ancient Near East, but historical accounts are unclear as to what the sowing of salt meant in that process. Various Hittite and Assyrian texts speak of ceremonially strewing salt, minerals, or plants over destroyed cities.

The Book of Judges says that Abimelech, the judge of the Israelites, sowed his own capital, Shechem, with salt, ca. 1050 BCE, after quelling a revolt against him. Starting in the 19th century, various texts claim that the Roman general Scipio Africanus plowed over and sowed the city of Carthage with salt after defeating it in the Third Punic War (146 BCE), sacking it, and forcing the survivors into slavery. However, no ancient sources exist documenting this. The Carthage story is a later invention, probably modelled on the story of Shechem (a city now residing in Israel’s West Bank).

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