Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Gabelle was a very unpopular tax on salt in France, prior to 1790. The term gabelle derives from the Latin term gabulum (a tax).

In France, Gabelle was originally applied to taxes on all commodities, but was gradually limited to the tax on salt. In process of time it became one of the most hated and most grossly unequal taxes in the country, but, though condemned by all supporters of reform, it was not abolished until 1790. First imposed in 1286, in the reign of Philip IV, as a temporary expedient, it was made a permanent tax by Charles V. Repressive as a state monopoly, it was made doubly so from the fact that the government obliged every individual above the age of eight years to purchase weekly a minimum amount of salt at a fixed price. When first instituted, it was levied uniformly on all the provinces in France, but for the greater part of its history the price varied in different provinces. There were five distinct groups of provinces, classified as follows:

  1. the Pays de grandes gabelles, in which the salt came from the Atlantic and the tax was heaviest;
  2. the Pays de petites gahelles, in which the salt came from the Mediterranean and the tax was about half the rate of the former;
  3. the Pays de salines (Jura and Lorraine), in which the tax was levied on the salt extracted from the salt marshes;
  4. the Pays redimés, which had purchased redemption in 1549;
  5. the Pays exempts, which had stipulated for exemption on entering into union with the kingdom of France.

Greniers à sel (salt granaries dating from 1342) were established in each province, and to these all salt had to be taken by the producer on penalty of confiscation. The grenier fixed the price which it paid for the salt and then sold it to retail dealers at a higher rate.

Derived from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica (public domain source).