Walking barefoot in ancient Rome was frowned upon and testified to the low status of a person. Likewise, neglected and leaky shoes were viewed as evidence of poverty. To a large extent, the Romans adopted footwear from the Etruscans and the Greeks, creating their own solutions.
The footwear of ancient Romans consisted of several types, with sandals (sandalia or soleae) or shoes (calcei) most often worn. Usually, a well-born Roman walked around the house in sandals and went out into the city in shoes, which were an indispensable element of the citizen’s clothing, apart from the toga. The shoes were similar to ours, except that they had a sole made of leather, and leather straps framed the foot and calves.
Depending on the weather conditions, the thickness of the leather the sandal was made of varied; in cooler climates, the sandal was made of thicker leather. The sandals were attached to the feet with straps covering the instep and the lower leg. There were also versions of sandals with additional leather or metal uppers covering the entire shin. It is worth adding that during the feast, the household members and guests took off their sandals at domus.
The legs were not completely covered so there were spaces left for the legs to breathe. In rainy weather, shoes called pero, which were made of tanned leather, were worn. Higher boots reaching mid-calves were also worn – the so-called calcamen. In the early days of Rome, shoes with curved toes were worn – calcei repandi. Later Roman boots had rounded toes, however.
In addition to the aforementioned footwear, low shoes (socci) were distinguished, worn mainly by women, but also by comic actors. Theatrical footwear was cothurnus, with high soles when playing the tragedy. Cothurnus hugged the calf and sometimes even reached the knees. It was also worn by people of important positions and riders. Roman senators wore black leather shoes (calceus senatorius) with 4 thongs (corrigiae). They were similar in shape to the red ones on the high soles of the patricians – calceus mulleus. The women, on the other hand, wore caligae muliebres and calceoli where the latter was a little shoe.
Of course, we cannot forget about Roman military sandals (caligae), which had a thick sole, studded with iron or copper studs (clavi caligarii), consisting of several layers of goat, sheep skin., cows or cries. A solid sole guaranteed stability and durability of the footwear. This type of footwear was also usually used by citizens, especially those who performed manual work (farmers, miners).
It should be noted that the shoes were usually worn in the natural colour of the skin; however, those who could afford it had dyed shoes. The following colours could be achieved: black (due to the dye sutorium inkum, containing copper sulphate), red, yellow, white, gold, and purple. The skin was impregnated with a kind of tree bark liquid, mineral salts and others to protect it from decay. Custom sandal colours were criticized in ancient Rome as excessive luxury; the person wearing such shoes most often retorted that he only used such shoes as foot protection. Interestingly, Emperor Aurelian was to forbid the wearing of extravagant (multi-coloured) shoes for men, thus wanting to maintain moderation and modesty in society. Women were not affected by this limitation.
In colder climates (e.g. Britain), the foot was also worn in the form of socks (woollen or linen fabrics) to protect it from the cold. This is confirmed by a 2010 discovery in North Yorkshire (UK). There were found 14 military graves in which, next to the bodies of the buried Romans, there were the remains of sandals, including preserved fibers among the rust from sandal nails. This proves that ancient Romans could wear socks along with sandals, and thus the extravagant fashion appeared much earlier than we think.
Different types of Roman shoes
- Galilica was a boot borrowed from the Greeks, with a wooden sole and made of thick leather. This type of footwear was mainly worn in rainy weather and was popular with couriers, travellers and farmers.
- Baxa it was a sandal made of vegetable fibres, leaves or bark. Delicate construction and cheap workmanship made the footwear popular especially in hot climates (eg Egypt) and among low social classes.
- Calceus was a typical Roman boot that covered the entire foot and was tied at the ankle and front. Patricians were entitled to wear red-dyed shoes; while the newly appointed senators wore black boots. It is believed that the colour purple was worn during major ceremonies such as triumphs.
- Babilonia hypodemata were elegant Babylonian sandals made of very good quality leather; in the colour of saffron. These shoes were popular with the Roman upper classes.
- Sculponae were sandals that had a wooden sole with a high heel; a wide leather strap was nailed to its sides. This type of footwear was worn by the Romans in baths because the wooden sole was less susceptible to moisture than leather. Farmers also used these sandals for working in muddy terrain.
- Campagus was a type of footwear of ancient Romans, which was worn by patricians and fastened at the heel and between the toes – the toes were exposed. Diocletian’s edict states that such shoes cost 75 denarii.
- Embromides were representative knee-length military boots.
- Campagi militares were soldiers’ boots.