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A salt tax was a tax levied directly on salt, usually proportional to the amount of salt purchased. In ancient times, salt was extremely valuable as a preservant. Words such as salary are derived from the same root as salt and indicate its vitality to civilizations. As an example, ancient "salaries" could literally be quantities of salt.
Due to the scarcity and importance of salt, levying a tax on its commerce was extremely lucrative, but also widely despised and controversial. The most notable instances are the gabelle in France, salt tax in China and the salt tax in India including that under the British.
Notable examples of salt taxation throughout history include:
- The French Gabelle, which was a contributing factor to the French Revolution.
- The salt tax in China: at various times including that under the Salt Commission of Tang and Yuan China. In China, a state monopoly on salt, also known as the salt gabelle, has existed since 119 B.C and lasted until 2014, making it the world’s oldest (and possibly first) state monopoly in the world. By the mid-Tang dynasty, taxes on salt brought in more than half of the government's tax revenue, and continued to be a major factor even in the 20th century.
- The salt tax in India including that under the British. In India, there had been a tax on salt for hundreds of years but it was greatly increased following the rule of India’s provinces by the British East India Company. In salt producing regions such as Orissa, private sale of salt was prohibited, and salt found being transported had to be sold to the British authorities at a fixed price, and, in later years, the production of salt was banned completely. This was done to maintain the high price of British salt by destroying India’s long established tradition of salt-making. In 1858, when Britain took control of the Indian provinces, these taxes remained. Mahatma Gandhi protested this with the Salt March, and it was a contributing factor to the Indian independence movement. Salt played a large role in India’s quest for independence. In 1930, Mahatma Gandhi’s famous Salt Satyagraha took place and led to nonviolent protests throughout the provinces of British India. A 24-day, 240-mile march from Sabarmati Ashram to the coastal village of Dandi, Gandhi was going to, at the journey’s end, illegally harvest salt without paying tax to the British Crown. Salt was chosen by Gandhi because its taxation was extremely detrimental to the poorest of Indians and, "Next to air and water, salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life." Despite the national influence and international recognition gained by the Salt Satyagraha, the salt tax remained until it was repealed by Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of the Interim Government, in 1946.
- A Russian salt tax led to an uprising known as the Moscow uprising of 1648.
- The solărit tax in the Principality of Moldavia during the 16th-18th century.
Salt tax in alternate form
In 2014, it is still illegal in certain provinces of China to use salt from a neighbor city.
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