In the records of the Presbytery of Edinburgh, under date of September 20, 1586, is to be found the following description of an oath which Scotch merchants were required to take when on their way to the Baltic:--
Certan merchantis passing to Danskerne (Denmark) and cuming neir Elsinnure, chusing out and quhen they accompted for the payment of the toill of the goods, and that depositioun of ane othe in forme following, viz: Thei present and offer breid and salt to the deponer of the othe, whereon he layis his hand and deponis his conscience and sweiris.
Gypsies likewise sometimes use bread and salt to confirm the solemnity of an oath. An example of this is recorded in the "Pesther Lloyd " of July 1, 1881. A member of a gypsy band in western Hungary had been robbed of a sum of money, and so informed his chief, who summoned the elders of the camp to a council. On an upright cross formed of two poles was placed a piece of bread sprinkled with salt, and upon this each gypsy was required to swear that he was not the thief. The real culprit, refusing to take so solemn an oath, was thus discovered.
Among the Jews the covenant of salt is the most sacred possible. Even at the present time, Arabian princes are wont to signify their ratification of an alliance by sprinkling salt upon bread, meanwhile exclaiming, "I am the friend of thy friends, and the enemy of thine enemies." So likewise there is a common form of request among the Arabs as follows: "For the sake of the bread and salt which are between us, do this or that."
In the East, at the present day, compacts between tribes are still confirmed by salt, and the most solemn pledges are ratified by this substance. During the Indian mutiny of 1857 a chief motive of self-restraint among the Sepoys was the fact that they had sworn by their salt to be loyal to the English queen.
The antiquity of the practice of using salt in confirmation of an oath is shown in the following passage from an ode of the Greek lyric poet Archilochus, who flourished during the early part of the seventh century B. C.:--
Thou hast broken the solemn oath, and hast disgraced the salt and the table.
In the year 1731 the Protestant miners and peasants inhabiting the "salt exchequer lands," prior to their banishment from the country by Leopold, Archbishop of Salzburg, held a meeting in the picturesque village of Schwarzach, and "solemnly ratified their league by the ancient custom of dipping their fingers in salt." The table at which this ceremony took place, and a picture representing the event, are still shown at the Wallner Inn, where the meeting was held.