Roman Sandals and Boots

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History, Facts and Information about Roman Sandals and Boots
The content of this article provides interesting history, facts and information about Roman Sandals and Boots. Roman citizens wore sandals (soleae) - footwear without toe coverings indoors and shoes or boots (calcei or calceus), footwear with toe coverings with straps which covered the ankles, the calf, or up to the knee, outdoors.

Roman Sandals and Boots - Sandals
There were many different styles of Roman Sandals which depended on the cost of manufacture and the status of the Roman wearing the sandals. Only the cheapest materials were used for slaves and laborers which were made in the plainest of colors. Sandals are believed to be the first rigid shoes crafted. A stiff sole was attached to the foot by leather cords, straps, or braided materials. Roman Sandals were generally the most worn type of footwear in warm climates such as the countries surrounding the Mediterranean such as those regions conquered by the Roman Empire. There were different names given to specific types of Roman sandals:

  • Baxa or Baxea sandals - light sandals worn by intellectuals. Made of vegetable leaves or palm leaves, twigs, or fibres. Cheap and simple to make, worn indoors,  possibly by some slaves - similar in style to a modern 'flip-flop'

  • Socccus were slippers without upper work used for indoor wear by both sexes

  • Solea were slippers with upper workcommonly worn during feasts or banquets   

Roman Sandals for Women
Sandalium (Sandalia) were women's sandals. Sandals worn by women were made of softer, finer leather. Winter shoes were often made with cork soles (Roman women did not go out very much, the cork was used to provide warmth). Sometimes the soles were made thicker to provide the illusion of height. These sandals when worn by the wealthy or the Patricians were  adorned with costly embroidery and gold. They started as modern 'flip-flop' style sandals and later had toe coverings added. The small cover of the toes was not sufficient to fasten the sandalium to the foot so beautifully adorned and elaborate thongs were attached to it. Women also wore types of footwear called Sikyonia embas (from the island Sikyon), which were fancy shoes made of white felt. A Taurina was an ox hide sandal for women which could be made either single or double-soled.

Materials used to make Roman Sandals and Boots - Leather
The materials used to make Roman Sandals and Boots was predominantly leather. The Ancient Romans were expert in the process of tanning and produced supple leather which was ideal for making Roman sandals and boots. The Romans predominantly used the hide of animals such as a deer, ox, calves, cattle to manufacture sandals and boots. The thickest and most durable types of leather were used for  making the soles of boots and remaining weaker leather was used for making sandals and the straps. Sheepskin and pigskin were used for the more expensive sandals and boots and worn by wealthy Romans looking for style rather than durability. A copper-vitriol solution containing iron called  Melanteria was used to blacken leather. Leather boots were made waterproof by an application of grease.

Roman Sandals and Boots - Shoes and Boots
Roman Shoes and Boots, like Roman sandals,  had many different designs and styles. Only the cheapest materials were used for slaves and laborers in the plainest of colors. Boots were only provided if they were necessary for the work expected of the slave. Most slaves went barefoot. Roman soldiers who were expected to march for many miles had to have strong shoes which were called caliga. The sole of the caliga was thickly studded with hobnails. There were different names given to specific types of Roman boots:

  • Caliga was the name given to the boots of a Roman soldier

  • Pero was the name of the boots worn by agricultural workers. The pero was a soft leather shoe covering the entire foot and ankle. Originally the word pero was a generic term for shoe

  • Embades were enclosed boots which had to be "put on" with a foot stepping into them. A long leather tongue came down over the top in front of the lacing, and the boots were lined with felt or fur. The word Lingula was used to describe the tongue of boots

  • Endromides were high boots generally worn by equestrians and hunters. These high boots were split vertically up the inside middle to make them easier to put on

Roman Sandals and Boots - Caliga,  the Roman Hobnail Boots
Roman Boots used by the Roman army were called caliga. These boots were highly practical and durable to ensure they were suitable for the long marches required of Roman Soldiers. The secret of their success was by adding hobnails to the design of the boots. Hobnails were iron nails which were nailed through the soles of boots to keep the footwear together and to prevent the soles of the boots from wearing out. The hobnails were placed all around the edge of the sole and in some designs on the surface of the sole.

Roman Sandals and Boots - The Color Red
The Romans were able to use dye on the sandals and boots but this process took longer and cost more money. Only wealthy Romans of a high status such as the Patricians would wear red dyed sandals and boots. The word Mulleus was used to describe shoes which were dyed red.  The word Mulleus derives from the mullet fish (mullus), which is red in color. The different types of Roman boots and shoes made of leather dyed red were named after the status of the wearers such as calceus patricius, calceus senatorius or calceus equestris.   

Making Roman Sandals and Boots
Making Roman Shoes, Sandals and boots required different sections or layers. The bottom, outside, layer or sole of the sandal or boot, the inner sole, the foot covering and leg straps of the boots.

  • The bottom, outside, layer or sole of the boots had to be sturdy received the most wear

  • The inner sole of the boots had to be softer as it came into contact with the foot. Less wealthy Romans did not wear socks but strips of foot wrappings might be used to prevent chafing. The Romans also used Impilia which were liners made of of wool or felt for boots or sandals

  • Piloi were felt socks used with leather sandals and boots to protect the flesh of the foot from chafing and to keep the foot warm. The piloi were commonly worn with the embas or endromis   

  • The foot coverings of the boots had to cut encompass the shape of the foot

  • A strip of leather was placed between the outsole of a shoe and the edges of the insole and the upper sole

  • The straps were used to tie the boots and sandals to the foot and could extend past the ankle and calf up to the knee

  • The straps were made of thin lengths of leather or fabric inserted through loops or eyelets to fasten sandals and boots to the foot

  • The thongs or straps for tying sandals and boots were called Loramentum

A wooden block, called a forma, was shaped like a foot on which boots were made. The Romans also used an iron block on which to hammer the hobnails as the nails had to be turned or flattened.

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