Roman Shoes

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

Roman Shoes - Sandals and Boots
There were many different styles of Roman Shoes which depended on the cost of manufacture and the status of the Roman who was wearing the shoes. Only the cheapest materials were used for slaves and laborers which were made in the plainest of colors. 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. Sandals consisted of a stiff sole which was attached to the foot by leather cords, straps, or braided materials. Roman men only wore sandals indoors. Different types of boots were the shoes which were worn outdoors anything less would indicate that the wearer lived in dire poverty. 

Different Types Roman Shoes
There were many different styles of Roman shoes which had many different types of designs and styles. Cheap materials were used for making shoes for slaves and laborers which were in the plainest of colors. Most slaves went barefoot. Shoes were only provided for slaves if they were necessary for the work expected of the slave. 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 sandals and boots:

  • Caliga was the name given to the shoes, or boots, worn by Roman soldiers

  • Pero shoes 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 shoes 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 shoes 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

  • Baxa or Baxea shoes were light sandals worn by intellectuals and actors. 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

  • Actors shoes - Comedians wore the socci or slippers and tragedians the cothurni      

Roman Shoes for Women
Shoes called Sandalium (Sandalia) were a type of sandals worn by women. 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 of Roman women's shoes were made thicker to provide the illusion of height. The shoes, especially the sandals, worn by wealthy or Patrician women were  adorned with costly embroidery and gold. These shoes started as modern 'flip-flop' style sandals and later had toe coverings added. The small cover of the toes of these shoes 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 shoes 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 shoes.

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

Roman Shoes - Caliga,  the Roman Hobnail Boots
Roman Boots were the names of the shoes used by the Roman army and were called caliga. These shoes, or boots, were highly practical and durable to ensure they were suitable for the long marches required of Roman Soldiers. The secret of the success of these shoes was by adding hobnails to the design. Hobnails were iron nails which were nailed through the soles of shoes 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 shoe designs on the surface of the sole.

Red Roman Shoes
The Romans were able to use dye on their shoes 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 outdoor shoes or boots made of leather dyed red were named after the status of the wearers such as calceus patricius, calceus senatorius or calceus equestris. The shoes of the senators came up to the middle of their legs, and had a golden or silver crescent on the top of the foot.

Making Roman Shoes
Making Roman Shoes required different sections or layers. The bottom, outside, layer or sole of the shoes, the inner sole, the foot covering and leg straps of the shoes.

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

  • The inner sole of the shoes 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 shoes

  • 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 shoes  

  • The foot coverings of shoes were 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 soles of shoes

  • The straps were used to tie shoes 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 shoes were called Loramentum

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

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