When and where was salt as valuable as gold?

When and where was salt as valuable as gold?


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I have often heard that gold and salt were sometimes considered of equal value. When and where did that occur?


During the era when the Phoenicians ruled the Mediterranean sea and surrounding territories (cerca 1550 - 300 B.C.), salt was indeed a highly precious commodity. After this, the Romans became the dominant force in the Mediterranean, though the value of salt did not immediately decline by any means. Whether it was pound-for-pound as valuable as gold, I think it is hard to say, but probably not out of the question at some point.

Until relatively modern times, salt was prized mainly for its ability to preserve foodstuffs as well as season food. In the hot Mediterranean climate where fish and meat would decay rather quickly, this was particularly useful. The period of Phonetician domination during the early to mid first millennium B.C. (including its successor state Carthage) represented one of the world's first monopolies. Essentially, other nations (including Ancient Greece and early Rome) did not have great access to salt, and hence the Phoenecian monopoly could dictate its own outrageous rates.

From this article on the economy of the Phoenicians:

From the interior they [the Phoenicians] obtained salt, which was highly prized in ancient times, the exchange rate being equal to gold. Roman soldiers (and probably Carthaginians too) were paid in part in salt, from which comes the old saying "worth your salt". Carthage had excellent relations with the warlike Gauls, Celts, and Celtiberians, from whom they obtained amber, tin, silver, and furs.

I find it fascinating that the modern English word "salary" (pay to a worker) derives the Latin "salarium", itself deriving from the Latin "salis" for salt. Whether Roman soldiers were actually paid in salt sometimes (quite debatable), they often would have bought salt with their pay, given its utility and valuable nature. Either way, this notable etymology, along with a number of common modern quotes in English, alone provide good support for the precious role salt once played in civilisation.

Some interesting facts about the role salt as played in human history (including quotes).


I don't think that gold and salt ever were equal in value, that's an exaggeration. Salt was very valuable however, particularly because of its use for conservation - valuable enough to make one very rich. This allowed cities that sold salt (e.g. Lüneburg) to get very wealthy and influential. The Wieliczka salt mine supposedly was responsible for one third of the Polish state income between 14th and 16th century. But they obviously had to sell salt in large quantities for that.


I have a great interest in the history of salt, mainly because of looking to the uncertain future, and can confirm that Salt was essential to soldiers during warfare. If was the main way to preserve meat, fish and vegetables, and without it long marches were untenable.

Salt mines were few and far between and taking it from the sea was only practical in certain locations. The weather / climate / seashore playing a large part in successful extraction, as well as operator expertise. See "Salt: A World History" by Mark Kurlansky.

Gold on the other hand is a metal that was found in reasonably pure form in some areas and rivers originating in those areas. It many have been in small quantities but it is very dense, so weight for weight it could have been the same price as salt before 200 BC.

Some interesting surfing did bring up a good estimate of the price in 200 AD; Eight grams of Gold would buy 2268 grams of Salt (about 5 pounds).

Eight grams of Gold is currently worth about US$496 which makes Salt rather cheap now.


Salt was much in demand, it is true; but is it very difficult to produce? I have a friend who used to make it on the beach in Sestri Levante in WWII, as a teenager and then walk inland selling it. It's not rare, just much in demand - unlike gold, which is scarce. If the price was that of gold ,surely more people would boil up seawater on the beach [unless they had the luxury of salt-pans].


When and where was salt as valuable as gold? - History

Salt is a mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride (NaCl), a chemical compound belonging to the larger class of salts salt in the form of a natural crystalline mineral is known as rock salt or halite. Salt is present in vast quantities in seawater, where it is the main mineral constituent. The open ocean has about 35 grams (1.2 oz) of solids per liter of sea water, a salinity of 3.5%.

Salt is essential for life in general, and saltiness is one of the basic human tastes. Salt is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous food seasonings, and salting is an important method of food preservation. [1]

Some of the earliest evidence of salt processing dates to around 6,000 BC, when people living in the area of present-day Romania boiled spring water to extract salts a salt-works in China dates to approximately the same period. Salt was also prized by the ancient Hebrews, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Hittites, Egyptians, and the Indians. Salt became an important article of trade and was transported by boat across the Mediterranean Sea, along specially built salt roads, and across the Sahara on camel caravans. The scarcity and universal need for salt have led nations to go to war over it and use it to raise tax revenues. Salt is used in religious ceremonies and has other cultural and traditional significance.

Salt is processed from salt mines, and by the evaporation of seawater (sea salt) and mineral-rich spring water in shallow pools. Its major industrial products are caustic soda and chlorine salt is used in many industrial processes including the manufacture of polyvinyl chloride, plastics, paper pulp and many other products. Of the annual global production of around two hundred million tonnes of salt, about 6% is used for human consumption. Other uses include water conditioning processes, de-icing highways, and agricultural use. Edible salt is sold in forms such as sea salt and table salt which usually contains an anti-caking agent and may be iodised to prevent iodine deficiency. As well as its use in cooking and at the table, salt is present in many processed foods.

Sodium is an essential nutrient for human health via its role as an electrolyte and osmotic solute. [2] [3] [4] Excessive salt consumption may increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as hypertension, in children and adults. Such health effects of salt have long been studied. Accordingly, numerous world health associations and experts in developed countries recommend reducing consumption of popular salty foods. [4] [5] The World Health Organization recommends that adults should consume less than 2,000 mg of sodium, equivalent to 5 grams of salt per day. [6] [7]


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The Sacrificial Ceremony

1000 B.C.: First Metal Money and Coins

Bronze and Copper cowrie imitations were manufactured by China at the end of the Stone Age and could be considered some of the earliest forms of metal coins. Metal tool money, such as knife and spade monies, was also first used in China. These early metal monies developed into primitive versions of round coins. Chinese coins were made out of base metals, often containing holes so they could be put together like a chain.

500 B.C.: Modern Coinage

Outside of China, the first coins developed out of lumps of silver. They soon took the familar round form of today, and were stamped with various gods and emperors to mark their authenticity. These early coins first appeared in Lydia, which is part of present-day Turkey, but the techniques were quickly copied and further refined by the Greek, Persian, Macedonian, and later the Roman empires. Unlike Chinese coins which depended on base metals, these new coins were made from precious metals such as silver, bronze, and gold, which had more inherent value.

118 B.C.: Leather Money

Leather money was used in China in the form of one-foot-square pieces of white deerskin with colorful borders. This could be considered the first documented type of banknote.

A.D. 800 - 900: The Nose

The phrase "To pay through the nose" comes from Danes in Ireland, who slit the noses of those who were remiss in paying the Danish poll tax.

806: Paper Currency

The first known paper banknotes appeared in China. In all, China experienced over 500 years of early paper money, spanning from the ninth through the fifteenth century. Over this period, paper notes grew in production to the point that their value rapidly depreciated and inflation soared. Then beginning in 1455, the use of paper money in China disappeared for several hundred years. This was still many years before paper currency would reappear in Europe, and three centuries before it was considered common.

1500: Potlach

"Potlach" comes from a Chinook Indian custom that existed in many North American Indian cultures. It is a ceremony where not only were gifts exchanged, but dances, feasts, and other public rituals were performed. In some instances potlach was a form of initiation into secret tribal societies. Because the exchange of gifts was so important in establishing a leader's social rank, potlach often spiralled out of control as the gifts became progressively more lavish and tribes put on larger and grander feasts and celebrations in an attempt to out-do each other.

1535: Wampum

The earliest known use of wampum, which are strings of beads made from clam shells, was by North American Indians in 1535. Most likely, this monetary medium existed well before this date. The Indian word "wampum" means white, which was the color of the beads.

1816: The Gold Standard

Gold was officially made the standard of value in England in 1816. At this time, guidelines were made to allow for a non-inflationary production of standard banknotes which represented a certain amount of gold. Banknotes had been used in England and Europe for several hundred years before this time, but their worth had never been tied directly to gold. In the United States, the Gold Standard Act was officialy enacted in 1900, which helped lead to the establishment of a central bank.

1930: End of the Gold Standard

The massive Depression of the 1930s, felt worldwide, marked the beginning of the end of the gold standard. In the United States, the gold standard was revised and the price of gold was devalued. This was the first step in ending the relationship altogether. The British and international gold standards soon ended as well, and the complexities of international monetary regulation began.

The Present:

Today, currency continues to change and develop, as evidenced by the new $100 U.S. Ben Franklin bill.

The Future: Electronic Money

In our digital age, economic transactions regularly take place electronically, without the exchange of any physical currency. Digital cash in the form of bits and bytes will most likely continue to be the currency of the future.


Chinese Create Object That Resembles Modern-Day Coin

Sometime around 770 B.C., the Chinese moved from using actual usable objects–such as tools and weapons–as a medium of exchange to using miniature replicas of these same objects that had been cast in bronze. Due to impracticality–nobody wants to reach into their pocket and impale their hand on a sharp arrow–these tiny daggers, spades, and hoes were eventually abandoned for objects in the shape of a circle. These objects became some of the first coins.  

Although China was the first country to use an object that modern people might recognize as coins, the first region of the world to use an industrial facility to manufacture coins that could be used as currency was in Europe, in the region called Lydia (now western Turkey). Today, this type of facility is called a mint, and the process of creating currency in this way is referred to as minting.


Spanish Hot Chocolate

There are conflicting reports about when chocolate arrived in Europe, although it’s agreed it first arrived in Spain. One story says Christopher Columbus discovered cacao beans after intercepting a trade ship on a journey to America and brought the beans back to Spain with him in 1502.

Another tale states Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes was introduced to chocolate by the Aztecs of Montezuma’s court. After returning to Spain, cacao beans in tow, he supposedly kept his chocolate knowledge a well-guarded secret. A third story claims that friars who presented Guatemalan Mayans to Philip II of Spain in 1544 also brought cacao beans along as a gift.

No matter how chocolate got to Spain, by the late 1500s it was a much-loved indulgence by the Spanish court, and Spain began importing chocolate in 1585. As other European countries such as Italy and France visited parts of Central America, they also learned about cacao and brought chocolate back to their perspective countries.

Soon, chocolate mania spread throughout Europe. With the high demand for chocolate came chocolate plantations, which were worked by thousands of slaves.

European palates weren’t satisfied with the traditional Aztec chocolate drink recipe. They made their own varieties of hot chocolate with cane sugar, cinnamon and other common spices and flavorings.

Soon, fashionable chocolate houses for the wealthy cropped up throughout London, Amsterdam and other European cities.


Where does gold come from ?

Because gold is dispersed widely throughout the geologic world, its discovery occurred to many different groups in many different locales. And nearly everyone who found it was impressed with it, and so was the developing culture in which they lived.

Gold was the first metal widely known to our species. When thinking about the historical progress of technology, we consider the development of iron and copper-working as the greatest contributions to our species’ economic and cultural progress – but gold came first.

Gold is the easiest of the metals to work. It occurs in a virtually pure and workable state, whereas most other metals tend to be found in ore-bodies that pose some difficulty in smelting. Gold’s early uses were no doubt ornamental, and its brilliance and permanence (it neither corrodes nor tarnishes) linked it to deities and royalty in early civilizations .

Gold has always been powerful stuff. The earliest history of human interaction with gold is long lost to us, but its association with the gods, with immortality, and with wealth itself are common to many cultures throughout the world.

Early civilizations equated gold with gods and rulers, and gold was sought in their name and dedicated to their glorification. Humans almost intuitively place a high value on gold, equating it with power, beauty, and the cultural elite. And since gold is widely distributed all over the globe, we find this same thinking about gold throughout ancient and modern civilizations everywhere.

Gold, beauty, and power have always gone together. Gold in ancient times was made into shrines and idols (“the Golden Calf”), plates, cups, vases and vessels of all kinds, and of course, jewelry for personal adornment.

The “Gold of Troy” treasure hoard, excavated in Turkey and dating to the era 2450 -2600 B.C., show the range of gold-work from delicate jewelry to a gold gravy boat weighing a full troy pound. This was a time when gold was highly valued, but had not yet become money itself. Rather, it was owned by the powerful and well-connected, or made into objects of worship, or used to decorate sacred locations.

Gold has always had value to humans, even before it was money. This is demonstrated by the extraordinary efforts made to obtain it. Prospecting for gold was a worldwide effort going back thousands of years, even before the first money in the form of gold coins appeared about 700 B.C.

In the quest for gold by the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Indians, Hittites, Chinese, and others, prisoners of war were sent to work the mines, as were slaves and criminals. And this happened during a time when gold had no value as ‘money,’ but was just considered a desirable commodity in and of itself.

The ‘value’ of gold was accepted all over the world. Today, as in ancient times, the intrinsic appeal of gold itself has that universal appeal to humans. But how did gold come to be a commodity, a measurable unit of value?

Gold, measured out, became money. Gold’s beauty, scarcity, unique density (no other metal outside the platinum group is as heavy), and the ease by which it could be melted, formed, and measured made it a natural trading medium. Gold gave rise to the concept of money itself: portable, private, and permanent. Gold (and silver) in standardized coins came to replace barter arrangements, and made trade in the Classic period much easier.

Gold was money in ancient Greece. The Greeks mined for gold throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East regions by 550 B.C., and both Plato and Aristotle wrote about gold and had theories about its origins. Gold was associated with water (logical, since most of it was found in streams), and it was supposed that gold was a particularly dense combination of water and sunlight.

The Incas referred to gold as the “tears of the Sun.”

Homer,in the “Iliad” and “Odyssey,” makes mention of gold as the glory of the immortals and a sign of wealth among ordinary humans. In Genesis 2:10-12, we learn of the river Pison out of Eden, and “the land of Havilah, where there is gold: and the gold of that land is good?”

As far back as 3100 B.C., we have evidence of a gold/silver value ratio in the code of Menes, the founder of the first Egyptian dynasty. In this code it is stated that “one part of gold is equal to two and one half parts of silver in value.” This is our earliest of a value relationship between gold and silver.

In ancient Egypt, around the time of Seti I (1320 B.C.), we find the creation of the first gold treasure map now known to us. Today, in the Turin Museum is a papyrus and fragments known as the “Carte des mines d’or.” It pictures gold mines, miners’ quarters, road leading to the mines and gold-bearing mountains, and so on.

Where is that gold mine located? Well, you know how it is with treasure maps – there’s always something a little vague about them, to throw you off the trail.

Modern thought is that it portrays the Wadi Fawakhir region in which the El Sid gold mine is located, but the matter is far from settled. Jason and the Argonauts sought the Golden Fleece around 1200 B.C.

That Greek myth makes more sense when you realize that the fleece that it refers to is the sheep’s fleece used in the recovery of fine placer gold.

Early miners would use water power to propel gold-bearing sand over the hide of a sheep, which would trap the tiny, but heavy, flakes of gold. When the fleece had absorbed all it could hold, this ‘golden fleece’ was hung up to dry, and when dry would be beaten gently so that the gold would fall off and be recovered.

This primitive form of hydraulic mining began thousands of years ago, and was still being used by some miners as recently as the California gold rush of 1849.

The first use of gold as money occurred around 700 B.C., when Lydian merchants produced the first coins. These were simply stamped lumps of a 63% gold and 27% silver mixture known as ‘electrum.’ This standardized unit of value no doubt helped Lydian traders in their wide-ranging successes, for by the time of Croesus of Mermnadae, the last King of Lydia (570 -546 B.C.), Lydia had amassed a huge hoard of gold. Today, we still speak of the ultra-wealthy as being ‘rich as Croesus.’

Their science may have been primitive, but the Greeks learned much about the practicalities of gold mining. By the time of the death of Alexander of Macedon (323 B.C.), the Greeks had mined gold from the Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar) all the way eastward to Asia Minor and Egypt, and we find traces of their placer mines today. Some of the mines were owned by the state, some were worked privately with a royalty paid to the state. Also, nomads such as the Scythians and Cimmerians worked placer mines all over the region. The surviving Greek gold coinage and Scythian jewelry both show superb artistry.

The Roman Empire furthered the quest for gold. The Romans mined gold extensively throughout their empire, and advanced the science of gold-mining considerably. They diverted streams of water to mine hydraulically, and built sluices and the first ‘long toms.’ They mined underground, also, and introduced water-wheels and the ‘roasting’ of gold-bearing ores to separate the gold from rock. They were able to more efficiently exploit old mine-sites, and of course their chief laborers were prisoners of war, slaves, and convicts.


California sales tax is collected on specific products only. Any single sales transaction consisting of monetized bullion, nonmonetized gold or silver bullion, or numismatic coins when the total sale value is less than $1,500 USD. Accessories, such as holders, tubes, coin flips, and similar apparel.

Gold could be far more efficient than cash at storing wealth. Interest rates remain low, meaning that your money in the bank “earns virtually nothing,” reports CNN Money. When you account for inflation, that cash may have actually lost value. Gold is recognized as a having a long-term record of stability


Salt was once incredibly valuable. But when and how did salt go from an expensive commodity to a common appearance on our every day dinner tables.

You might check out the book "Salt" by Mark Kurlansky. It is a quick read, and answers your question quite exactly. The TL/DR is that modern industrial mining methods have allowed for cheap, mass extraction of underground sources, as opposed to the older techniques of hand-mining or drying sea salt.

You might also look into the Lake Peigneur mining disaster for an interesting case about modern salt mining. Also, cool footage of giant barges being sucked down a whirlpool (then bobbing back up days later!)

That book changed so much for me, I started getting interested in other micro histories and discovering the relationships between histories and cultures that are usually taught totally independent of each other. I pretty much stopped reading fiction entirely and became engrossed in how cool real stories are. I learned how much stuff I had been taught completely wrong, and how much important stuff isnt taught at all in favor of the oft-repeated basics.
Yada yada yada, I ended up with history degree.

I actually wouldn't recommend the book Salt, even though it is an easier read than a lot of other books out there. I've detailed elsewhere the issues in Kurlansky's study, but even error and a lack of a thesis aside, there are a lot of better books out there.

Instead, I would recommend Robert Multhauf's Neptune's Gift: A History of Common Salt (1996). There are also studies of specific regions and aspects to the salt trade. For example, chapter 2 of Robert Smith's and David Christian's Bread and Salt: A Social and Economic History of Food and Drink in Russia covers the salt industry in Russia, and Paul Lovejoy has a book about the salt trade in central Sudan.

Also, the flash freezer made the demand and price for salt fall catastrophically overnight. No need to cure meat or fish when you can just freeze them.

My only source on this subject would be Kurlansky as well (surprising good read). However I think it should be noted that salt was never solely a luxury for the wealthy, instead it was a necessity of life. Early civilizations needed salt to prosper, just as they needed food, but neither was particularly scarce or expensive, just a lot more expensive than it is today.

I can't recommend that book enough. I actually had it assigned for a high school world history class, and it changed my entire outlook on history courses and the content. It will answer OP's question perfectly, and is a fun read that really expanded my views on the cultural, economic, and political connections between countries based on a single commodity.

To expand a bit, salt used to be highly valuable (think of the origin of the phrase "earn your salt") until modern mining techniques allowed us to produce it with much less effort than previously. As a result, salt is dirt-cheap and there are very few companies producing it at very low margins. Another interesting tidbit you may want to look into is the history of adding iodine to salt in the US. After commercial mining, that was really the last major change in the table salt industry. However, salt is used in other applications as well, and there has been a recent emergence in designer salts (sea salts and seasoned salts and the like) that are threatening to shake up the market a bit.

There's far too much history to be covered in this response thread, but the story of salt is well-documented and worth further explanation!

There is an episode of StarTalk with Mark Kurlansky interviewed by Niel DeGrasse Tyson that talked a lot about this - here is part one: http://www.startalkradio.net/show/the-salt-of-the-earth-part-1/

Was there resistance to the new mining techniques from the existing salt producers?

But even sea salt is readily available for negligible cost.

Interesting post, I have heard that the 2 main ingredients of salt are poisonous if they were separated, I don't know if this is true or not, could be a old wives tale, can you confirm?

A similar thing happened with aluminium. Author Peter Diamandis writes about it in the opening of his book Abundance.

Gaius Plinius Cecilius Secundus, known as Pliny the Elder, was born in Italy in the year AD 23. He was a naval and army commander in the early Roman Empire, later an author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, best known for his Naturalis Historia, a thirty-seven-volume encyclopedia describing, well, everything there was to describe. His opus includes a book on cosmology, another on farming, a third on magic. It took him four volumes to cover world geography, nine for flora and fauna, and another nine for medicine. In one of his later volumes, Earth, book XXXV, Pliny tells the story of a goldsmith who brought an unusual dinner plate to the court of Emperor Tiberius.

The plate was a stunner, made from a new metal, very light, shiny, almost as bright as silver. The goldsmith claimed he’d extracted it from plain clay, using a secret technique, the formula known only to himself and the gods. Tiberius, though, was a little concerned. The emperor was one of Rome’s great generals, a warmonger who conquered most of what is now Europe and amassed a fortune of gold and silver along the way. He was also a financial expert who knew the value of his treasure would seriously decline if people suddenly had access to a shiny new metal rarer than gold. “Therefore,” recounts Pliny, “instead of giving the goldsmith the regard expected, he ordered him to be beheaded.”

This shiny new metal was aluminum, and that beheading marked its loss to the world for nearly two millennia. It next reappeared during the early 1800s but was still rare enough to be considered the most valuable metal in the world. Napoléon III himself threw a banquet for the king of Siam where the honored guests were given aluminum utensils, while the others had to make do with gold.

Aluminum’s rarity comes down to chemistry. Technically, behind oxygen and silicon, it’s the third most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, making up 8.3 percent of the weight of the world. Today it’s cheap, ubiquitous, and used with a throwaway mind-set, but— as Napoléon’s banquet demonstrates— this wasn’t always the case. Because of aluminum’s high affinity for oxygen, it never appears in nature as a pure metal. Instead it’s found tightly bound as oxides and silicates in a claylike material called bauxite.

While bauxite is 52 percent aluminum, separating out the pure metal ore was a complex and difficult task. But between 1825 and 1845, Hans Christian Oersted and Frederick Wohler discovered that heating anhydrous aluminum chloride with potassium amalgam and then distilling away the mercury left a residue of pure aluminum. In 1854 Henri Sainte-Claire Deville created the first commercial process for extraction, driving down the price by 90 percent. Yet the metal was still costly and in short supply.

It was the creation of a new breakthrough technology known as electrolysis, discovered independently and almost simultaneously in 1886 by American chemist Charles Martin Hall and Frenchman Paul Héroult, that changed everything. The Hall-Héroult process, as it is now known, uses electricity to liberate aluminum from bauxite. Suddenly everyone on the planet had access to ridiculous amounts of cheap, light, pliable metal.

Save the beheading, there’s nothing too unusual in this story. History’s littered with tales of once-rare resources made plentiful by innovation. The reason is pretty straightforward: scarcity is often contextual. Imagine a giant orange tree packed with fruit. If I pluck all the oranges from the lower branches, I am effectively out of accessible fruit. From my limited perspective, oranges are now scarce. But once someone invents a piece of technology called a ladder, I’ve suddenly got new reach. Problem solved. Technology is a resource-liberating mechanism. It can make the once scarce the now abundant.

Kotler, Steven Diamandis, Peter H. (2012-02-21). Abundance (Kindle Location 199). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.


Sundiata Keita

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Sundiata Keita, Sundiata also spelled Sundjata or Soundiata, also called Sundiata, Mārī Diāṭa, or Mari Jata, (died 1255), West African monarch who founded the western Sudanese empire of Mali. During his reign he established the territorial base of the empire and laid the foundations for its future prosperity and political unity.

Sundiata belonged to the Keita clan of the Malinke people from the small kingdom of Kangaba, near the present Mali-Guinea border. Little is known about his early life. Malinke oral traditions indicate that he was one of 12 royal brothers who were heirs to the throne of Kangaba. Sumanguru, ruler of the neighbouring state of Kaniaga, overran Kangaba at the beginning of the 13th century and murdered all of Sundiata’s brothers. According to tradition, Sundiata was spared because he was a sickly boy who already appeared to be near death.

It is believed that Sundiata was once a dugu-tigi, or headman, of one of the villages of Kangaba. He organized a private army and consolidated his position among his own people before challenging the power of Sumanguru and the neighbouring Susu people. He defeated Sumanguru decisively in the Battle of Kirina (near modern Koulikoro, Mali) about 1235 and succeeded in forcing the former tributary states of Kaniaga to recognize his suzerainty. In 1240 Sundiata seized and razed Kumbi, the former capital of the Sudanese empire of Ghana, and by this act succeeded in obliterating the last symbol of Ghana’s past imperial glory.

After 1240 Sundiata apparently led no further conquests but consolidated his hold on the states already under his control. His generals, however, continued to extend the boundaries of his empire to include areas as far north as the southern fringes of the Sahara (including the important trade centre of Walata), east to the Great Bend of the Niger River, south to the goldfields of Wangara (the exact location is still unknown to scholars), and west to the Sénégal River.

Soon after 1240 Sundiata moved the seat of his empire from Jeriba to Niani (also called Mali), near the confluence of the Niger and Sankarani rivers. The lure of profits from the gold trade, made possible by Mali’s acquisition of Wangara, and the tranquillity that prevailed under Sundiata’s leadership attracted merchants and traders, and Niani soon became a key commercial centre in the Sudan.

Although Sundiata was nominally a Muslim and therefore acceptable to the predominantly Muslim merchant class, he managed to retain his support among the non-Muslim population. He did so by fulfilling many of the traditional religious functions expected of rulers in the West African societies whose political leaders were viewed as religious figures with quasi-divine powers. Little is known about the actual administration of Mali during Sundiata’s time. The imperial system he established, however, survived the years of internecine conflicts over the succession after his death.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy McKenna, Senior Editor.


Gold Prices by Year

The below chart tracks the price of gold since 1929, compared to the Dow Jones Industrial Average, inflation, and other factors.          

Year Gold Prices (London PM Fix) Dow Closing (December 31) Inflation (December YOY) Factors Influencing Price of Gold
1929 $20.63 248.48 0.6% Recession
1930 $20.65 164.58 -6.4% Deflation
1931 $17.06 77.90 -9.3% Depression
1932 $20.69 59.93 -10.3% Depression
1933 $26.33 99.90 0.8% FDR takes office
1934 $34.69 104.04 1.5% Expansion, Gold Reserve Act
1935 $34.84 144.13 3.0% Expansion
1936 $34.87 179.90 1.4% Expansion
1937 $34.79 120.85 2.9% FDR cut spending
1938 $34.85 154.76 -2.8% Contraction until June
1939 $34.42 150.24 0.0% Dust Bowl drought ends
1940 $33.85 131.13 0.7% Expansion
1941 $33.85 110.96 9.9% U.S. enters WWII
1942 $33.85 119.40 9.0% Expansion
1943 $33.85 135.89 3.0% Expansion
1944 $33.85 152.32 2.3% Bretton-Woods Agreement
1945 $34.71 192.91 2.2% Recession follows WWII
1946 $34.71 177.20 18.1% Expansion
1947 $34.71 181.16 8.8% Expansion
1948 $34.71 177.30 3.0% Expansion
1949 $31.69 200.13 -2.1% Recession
1950 $34.72 235.41 5.9% Expansion, Korean War
1951 $34.72 269.23 6.0% Expansion
1952 $34.60 291.90 0.8% Expansion
1953 $34.84 280.90 0.7% Eisenhower ends Korean War, recession
1954 $35.04 404.39 -0.7% Contraction ends in May, Dow returns to 1929 high
1955 $35.03 488.40 0.4% Expansion
1956 $34.99 499.47 3.0% Expansion
1957 $34.95 435.69 2.9% Expansion until August
1958 $35.10 583.65 1.8% Contraction until April
1959 $35.10 679.36 1.7% Expansion, Fed raises rate
1960 $35.27 615.89 1.4% Recession, Fed lowers rate
1961 $35.25 731.14 0.7% JFK takes office
1962 $35.23 652.10 1.3% Expansion
1963 $35.09 762.95 1.6% LBJ takes office
1964 $35.10 874.13 1.0% Expansion
1965 $35.12 969.26 1.9% Vietnam War
1966 $35.13 785.69 3.5% Expansion, Fed raises rate
1967 $34.95 905.11 3.0% Expansion
1968 $41.10 943.75 4.7% Expansion, Fed raises rate
1969 $35.17 800.36 6.2% Nixon takes office, Fed raises rate
1970 $37.44 838.92 5.6% Recession, Fed lowers rate
1971 $43.48 890.20 3.3% Expansion, wage-price controls
1972 $63.91 1,020.02 3.4% Expansion. Stagflation
1973 $106.72 850.86 8.7% Gold standard ends
1974 $183.85 616.24 12.3% Watergate, Ford allows private ownership of gold
1975 $140.25 852.41 6.9% Recession ends, stocks rise, gold fall
1976 $134.50 1,004.65 4.9% Expansion, Fed lowers rate
1977 $164.95 831.17 6.7% Expansion, Carter takes office
1978 $226.00 805.01 9.0% Expansion
1979 $512.00 838.71 13.3% Fed's stop-go policy worsens inflation
1980 $589.75 963.99 12.5% Gold hits $850 on 1/21, investors seek safety
1981 $397.50 875.00 8.9% Gold Commission
1982 $456.90 1,046.54 3.8% Recession ends, Garn-St. Germain Act
1983 $382.40 1,258.64 3.8% Expansion, Reagan increases spending
1984 $309.00 1,211.57 3.9% Expansion
1985 $326.55 1,546.67 3.8% Expansion
1986 $396.13 1,895.95 1.1% Expansion, Reagan tax cuts
1987 $484.10 1,938.83 4.4% Expansion, Black Monday crash
1988 $410.25 2,168.57 4.4% Expansion
1989 $398.60 2,753.20 4.6% S&L Crisis
1990 $392.75 2,633.66 6.1% Recession
1991 $353.20 3,168.83 3.1% Recession ends
1992 $332.90 3,301.11 2.9% Expansion
1993 $391.75 3,754.09 2.7% Expansion
1994 $383.25 3,834.44 2.7% Expansion
1995 $387.00 5,117.12 2.5% Expansion
1996 $369.25 6,448.27 3.3% Expansion, investors turn to stocks
1997 $290.20 7,908.25 1.7% Expansion
1998 $287.80 9,181.43 1.6% Expansion
1999 $290.25 11,497.12 2.7% Expansion, Y2K scare
2000 $274.45 10,786.85 3.4% Stock market peaks in March
2001 $276.50 10,021.50 1.6% Recession, 9/11
2002 $347.20 8,341.63 2.4% Expansion, 9-year gold bull market starts
2003 $416.25 10,453.92 1.9% Expansion
2004 $435.60 10,783.01 3.3% Expansion
2005 $513.00 10,717.50 3.4% Expansion
2006 $632.00 12,463.15 2.5% Expansion
2007 $833.75 13,264.82 4.1% Dow peaks at 14,164.43
2008 $869.75 8,776.39 0.1% Recession
2009 $1,087.50 10,428.05 2.7% Recession ends, gold hits $1,000 per ounce on Feb. 20
2010 $1,405.50 11,577.51 1.5% Obamacare and Dodd-Frank
2011 $1,531.00 12,217.56 3.0% Debt crisis, gold hits record $1,917.90 in August
2012 $1,657.50 13,104.14 1.7% Expansion, gold falls, stocks rise
2013 $1,204.50 16,576.55 1.5% N/A
2014 $1,206.00 17,823.07 0.8% Strong dollar
2015 $1,060.00 17,425.03 0.7% Gold falls to $1,050.60 on December 17
2016 $1,145.50 19,762.60 2.1% Dollar weakens
2017 $1,291.00 24,719.22 2.1% Dollar weakens
2018 $1,279.00 23,327.46 1.9% Dollar strengthens
2019 $1,514.75 28,538.44 2.3% COVID-19 outbreak
2020 $1,887.60 30,606.48 1.4% COVID-19 pandemic

Note: Between 1929 and 1967, annual average gold prices are used. December monthly gold price averages are used from 1968 to 1974. The last business day of December is used from 1975 on.


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