More simple than money, he sat back in some spilled salt.
Markus had received his week’s allotment of salt, which for a Roman soldier was in no small part his pay. Sure, a man can use the little gold coins with Caesar’s picture on it; they are what most of the young guys are working for, but being an old soldier Markus knew that sometimes it’s the salt that’s the essence of life.
Without salt, a man can’t sweat, and if a man can’t sweat he can’t physically exert himself, and he can’t even think clearly. Civilians don’t know how important salt is to a soldier or to a farmer for that matter. If a Roman soldier must go on his thirty-mile march once a month, with his weapons, armor and a forty-pound backpack to maintain his status as a centurion and get his pay, he must be able to sweat. For the younger guys who haven’t learned the routines, there is also the problem of failing to sweat properly and thus to complete the march with the cohort. They get a couple of overnights in the brig as punishment and they learn; a Roman soldier needs his salt. Without the salt, he can’t fight well when it comes to a battle.
Salt is life to a soldier and sometimes it is more important than food. If it comes to a combat situation he must be able to dependably exert himself to his uttermost. If he cramps up from lack of salt it means a real risk of his death and the death of his combat buddies. Thus salt is life.
Without salt, a hard-marching soldier will discover that after a couple of days of constant sweating he just can’t do anything that requires effort. If you don’t get your salt, and thus can’t sweat, your body temperature rises to a fever and then your muscles cramp up and your body becomes a worthless lump of stiff pain. If you rest for a few minutes the cramps will go away, but without getting some salt into your system you will quickly cramp up again with even the slightest exertion. When his muscles cramp a fully armed and powerful man can’t move and can’t fight and thus is easily killed. Getting one’s pay in gold coins is great to have for fun and the many other desirable things, but on a long march on a hot day the old saying “Salt is worth its weight in gold” sometimes becomes a life-and-death reality.
More simple than money, Marcus thought as he sat back in some spilled salt and rejoiced, for he knew that those enemies his cohort were pursuing were now in desperate trouble. Their supply sergeant must have been crazy because he had dropped their unit’s salt bag when being pursued, but apparently, he had kept their army’s pay bag filled with gold.
After this hot day, they wouldn’t be able to fight tomorrow when they ran out of the personal allotment of salt they all carried. They would probably be forced by lack of salt to give up without a fight. Their officers would command their men to desperate charges and retreats but it wouldn’t work, Markus thought, because our commanders would urge us to bluff-charge them and then retreat slowly and to back away and stay just out of their arrow shot range. The enemy charges would be short, probably less than a hundred steps, and then because they lacked salt some of their men would cramp up and their assault would become disorganized and they would be compelled to halt. By tomorrow afternoon, their army would be lying prostrate on the ground begging us for water and salt.
We would, of course, take their weapons but not kill them, not even hurt them. Instead, we would securely bind them and then give them water and treat them well. We could now sell these perfectly healthy men for a great price in the slave market. A good man’s price on the market will bring a couple of years of pay to a common soldier.
More simple than money. Marcus sat back on the spilled salt and thought about how to help his soon-to-be slave become perfectly healthy again. And, of course, when healthy how he would bring a great price at the market.