Thursday, July 25, 2019

Beginnings of barefoot running and the sport sandal

The Greeks were the first ancient nation to acknowledge the importance of corporeal exercise. Athletic games and religion became the central part of the lives of the ancient Greeks and a key ingredient of many religious festivals. Distance was important and the human foot was predominant in all measuring systems.

The ancient Egyptians had used a "step" for a measurement and a two step stride was equivalent to two yards (1.8 meters). The ancient Greeks adopted this and a distance of 100"steps" (about 200 metres) became a stade. This was a popular distance for foot races and runners sprinted for 1 stade. Amphitheatres where foot races were held were called a stadium and were 192m long and 32 m wide. The ancient running course was a rectangular field marked off at each end by stone blocks set into the ground in a line or sill called a balbis.

The balbis usually had parallel grooves carved along its length, as well as sockets at regular intervals for posts. The posts in the balbis served a dual purpose, as part of the starting gate and as turning posts (kampteres). The grooves marked the positions for the runners' feet.

Runners had a standing start with the left foot slightly ahead of the right. The back end of the starting grooves was vertical to allow the runners to grip with their toes and shove off, whereas the forward end was beveled toward the track to keep the runners from stubbing their toes. In the city of Corinth, they experimented with the form of the starting line in their stadium, built ca. 500 B.C. The balbis was curved so that in races with turns the runners on the outside did not have to run farther than those on the inside. Also the runners placed their toes into individual toe grooves, not a continuous groove along the sill. The front and rear grooves were two or three feet apart, indicating the runners employed a wide starting stance.

Races were started with a trumpet blast or auditory cry. The starter had a whip with which to beat the athletes who started too soon or broke the rules. To prevent cheating circa 450 BC foot races started from mechanical starting gate or hysplex. Between poles at each end of the balbis, ropes were stretched to form a barrier. Using torsion from twisted ropes, the gate was lowered to the ground, then raised against the tension and kept in a vertical position by a ring and cord fastened to larger stationary posts at each end. The rings were also attached to ropes and held by an official standing behind the runners. At a jerk of the ropes, the rings slipped off the poles, and the gate slammed forward, allowing the runners to spring onto the track. Footraces included a double stade (or diaulos) in which runners raced up the field, turned around a post, and returned; the dolichos, (literally the "long race"), was seven to 24 stades in length (1,400 to 4,800 meters). In the diaulos runners had individual turning posts and two lanes for the run up the track and back. Colored dust was used to mark off the lanes. For the dolichos the runners turned around single posts at each end.

In the stadium at Nemea (circa fourth century BC) there was a stone block with a socket hole 5.3 meters on the track side of the balbis and 3.4 meters to the west of the central longitudinal north-south axis. The socket hole held a turning post, and a similar one must have existed at the other end of the stadium. It is surmised runners clustered to their right as they approached the posts at each end. An armed race or hoplitodromos was used as part of military training. Runners ran a diaulos with full body armor (estimated 25kg), including helmet, shin guards and carrying a shield. The 200metre (656 ft), foot race was the only event in the first 13 Olympiads. Runners wore loin cloths but later appeared naked.

Any tricks bribery, or force employed by competitors to gain advantage upon others were strictly prohibited. As time passed the Greeks added different events with the pentathlon and wrestling first introduced at the 19th Olympiad. Later in Roman times a Roman mile or mille passum (1000 double paces or strides) measured about 5000 feet or a little short of today’s mile (5,282 feet). In the beginning competitors ran barefoot but as the Greek Empire extended more athletes from colder climates came to races wearing sandals. At first spectators and barefoot competitors treated these as a novelty and sign of parochialism. As soon as shod athletes became winners then public opinion changed and the wearing of sandals was viewed with great suspicion and associated with cheats. Eventually once it was recognized the sole of the sandal increased ground traction and propelled the leg forward with greater efficiency most athletes adopted the running sandal. The sole of the sandal needed to be securely attached to the foot and this necessitated leather thongs wrapped to the ankle and sometimes above.

Guhl E Koner W 1994 The greeks:their life and customs London:Senate Hanna A 1985 Design in strude:explorations in shoe design Industrial Design Jan/Feb pp40-45.

Reviewed 26/07/2019

Friday, December 8, 2017

Friday, July 7, 2017

The sandal: In the beginning

The beginning of footwear as we know it today, starts with civilization and sendentation. Many anthropologists believe the cradle of civilization lay in the Ancient Near East in a region roughly corresponding to modern Middle East, i.e. Iraq and northeastern Syria. The convergence of two major rivers i.e. the Tigris and Euphrates produced rich fertile soil with copious supply of water for irrigation. As a result many non-nomadic agrarian societies formed and the subsequent interaction between them laid the beginning of civilisation. The ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia formed in the 4th millennium BCE and ended during 2nd century BCE. The time period corresponded to the Bronze Age (3300-1200 BCE) and the Iron Age (1300–600 BCE) in that region.

Sumer (or Sumeria) was one of the first major civilisations and arose in the 4th millennium BCE. It lasted for about a thousand years during which time the Akkadians migrated into Mesopotamia. By the beginning of the Akkadian Empire in the 23 century BCE most of the customs and clothing of Sumer were subsumed into the Akkadian civilisation. Other kingdoms followed including: Babylonia (Elam, Assyria and Suria) (1700 – 1250 BCE); Assyria (20th century – 627 BCE); Medes ( 640 –549 BCE) and Persia (The Achaemenid Empire 550–330 BCE).

In the 18th BCE the Hittites established a kingdom which lasted until 1180 BCE before it disintegrated into several independent "Neo-Hittite" city-states. The Phoenician civilization (1200 – 539 BCE) was a maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean. Throughout the ancient Mesopotainan civilisations a Sumero-Akkadian culture prevailed. As civilisations came and went each expanded their parameters through trade. Eventually links with other early civilisations including Ancient Egypt (3200 BCE – 343 BCE), India (2800 BCE - 1500 BCE) and China were forged causing major cultural cross-fertilisation.

The Sumerian civilisation were noted for its workmanship and people clad themself in skins and hides. Sumerians were thought to generally go barefoot but excavations have unearthed a royal shoe with a turned up toe (circa 3000 BCE).

Up turned toe

Later footwear was worn at formal ceremonies by high dignitaries and Sumerian shoe styles become widespread. Up-turned shoes were made from dyed leather and had a heel or elevated soles. Early shoes included sandals with toe loops and heel protection. Sometimes straps came over the instep and footwear of the affluent was invariably bejellewed.

Early Sandal

Bejewelled Sandal

The Babylonians were skilled tanners and worked with kid and goat skins. They frequently dyed the leathers brilliant colours and the process became known as ‘morocco.’ These skills were later taken to Spain with the Moors and centred in Cordova. By the Middle Ages these became known as "Babylonian Shoes."

The Phoenicians in Syria were the first people to dye leather and their distinctive red dyes were made from crushed beetles. Later the Babylonians allocated colours to rank with gold and bejewelled sandals the exclusive reserve of the king and his court, pastel colours were for dignitaries and the middle class wore red or yellow only. The Babylonians also perfumed leather and included embroidery work on expensive shoes. Babylonian kings wore slippers made from fine leather with bands of white, gold, and red. The Sumerian word ‘mulu’ is the origin of word mule and Babylonian women wore mules and slippers or bilgha (babouche) made in white leather and fastened with jewels. Sandals were commonly worn by men and women and many Babylonians wore turned up shoes with pom poms. Servants in Babylonia went barefoot.

Assyrians wore sandals, low shoes and boots. The Assyrian kings wore thick soled leather sandals with rounded toes and an ornamented heel piece decorated with pearls and gems. The heel piece sloped towards the arch of the foot from the back of the ankle. Thongs were wrapped around the big toe with two on either side which finished over the instep. Alternatively the regent wore sandals with an extra thong round the big toe and decorated with crescents, rosettes, and other designs. Royal shoes were embroidered with gold thread and the regent’s slippers were crafted of fine leather in bands of white and gold and red. Assyrian queens wore embroidered slippers similar to 19th century pantoffles. Assyrian shoes were made from fabric or soft leather and up until 1370 BCE shoes were pointed but after this, sandals with upturned toes became popular. Women wore flat leather slippers. Highly colourful footwear often striped or variegated were popular. Red and yellow usually indicated high ranking officials. Delicate colours such as pale blue were especially popular among the affluent. Gentlewomen's slippers were made in white leather and fastened with jewels. Servants went barefooted. Huntsmen wore knee high boots.

Earliest Assyrian sculptures show foot soldiers wearing simple flat sandals with protection for the heel. The sandals had a cross-lacing of thongs around the big toe with others over the instep. Sandals were made either as a thin sole with heel cap made from red or different coloured leather strips sewn together. A second sandal had a thickened heel area tapering towards the toes. The sole was attached with covering to the heel and sides of the foot, leaving the toes and instep exposed. Later Assyrian warriors wore buskins laced from top to instep and decorated according to rank. In about 2000 BC the Assyrians started to wear boots prior to which the rank and file had fought barefooted. The Assyrian boot was broad and rounded; the front was cut away with a loose leather flap covering the instep and leg. The lacing was loose so the foot was not constricted. Assyrian cavalry of the 8th & 7th centuries BCE wore laced boots or greaves that reached almost to the knees. Bowmen had leather boots with tongues running from to the lower part of the calf to the top of the boot for protection. These fastened in the front with thongs. Some soldiers preferred bronze or brass greaves (to protect the shin) and wore them with sandals.

Medes and Persians shoes and boots were also made from soft leather. Boots were worn at various heights and shoes (‘perisque’) enveloped the foot and fastened in the front with buttons or a buckle. Greek historians, Herodotus (c. 484 BC – c. 425 BC). and Strabo (63/64 BC – ca. AD 24) ) described the dress of the Medes, including a high shoe, or low boot, that opened in front and were fastened with buttons. The Median sovereign wore a high, long shoe which buttoned at the front, had a toe ring attachment and were coloured saffron or deep yellow. Persians shoes tied below the ankle bones or had three button fastenings over the insteps. White leather shoes with matching thong leather were tied at the front. Persians fastened low open-toed shoes with triple laces. Pointed boots were not introduced until the time of the Hittites (2000-1200 BCE) when the Persians found them useful in close fighting. By the 3rd century BCE purple boots with fine embroidered motifs outlined in gold were popular. Elevated shoes with cork heels were also worn by the Persians. The ancients protected delicate footwear with wooden over sandals.