Salting the earth

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Salting the earth, or sowing with salt, is the ritual of spreading salt on conquered cities to symbolize a curse on its re-inhabitation.[1][2] It originated as a practice in the ancient Near East and became a well-established folkloric motif in the Middle Ages.[3]


Destroying cities

The custom of purifying or consecrating a destroyed city 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 (cress, or kudimmu, which produced a kind of salt or lye) over destroyed cities, including Hattusa, Taidu, Arinna, Hunusa,[4] Irridu,[5] and Susa.[6] The Book of Judges (9:45) says that Abimelech, the judge of the Israelites, sowed his own capital, Shechem, with salt, ca. 1050 BC, after quelling a revolt against him. This may have been part of a ḥērem ritual.[7] (cf. Salt in the Bible)

Starting in the 19th century,[8] various texts claim that the Roman general Scipio Aemilianus Africanus plowed over and sowed the city of Carthage with salt after defeating it in the Third Punic War (146 BC), sacking it, and forcing the survivors into slavery. However, no ancient sources exist documenting this.

The story is a later invention, modelled on the story of Shechem.[9] The ritual of symbolically drawing a plow over the site of a city is, however, mentioned in ancient sources, though not in reference to Carthage specifically.[10]

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