Saturday, November 20, 2010

Greek Sandals

According to Ledger (1985) Greek clothing consisted of simple lines and non complicated costume. The was extended to sandals which were from the Pre-Hellenic Period were finely worked and attached above the ankle with thick thongs. These were considered fashionable and sometimes decorated with beads. Frescos from this period show men wearing footwear whilst competing in games or attending ceremonies at the royal court. Mycenaean Greeks (c. 1600 BCE – c. 1100 BCE) corresponded to the Bronze Age and thrived on trade. The society was dominated by a warrior aristocracy and extended their control to Crete, the centre of the Minoan civilization, during 1400 BCE. Ancient Crete ( c. 3000-1100 B.CE) predates the Greeks and according to Turner Wilcox, (2008), the Cretan women went barefoot whilst their men folk wore high heeled leather boots made from light-coloured leather. The boots had thick soles (Lister (1987) and Cretan dress was influenced by Assyrian and Egyptian costume. Trade between Mediterranean civilisations is likely to account for the appearance of familiar footwear styles in areas where there would be no practical or logical reason for their existence (McDowell, 1989). Historians believe heeled shoes used by hillside shepherds may have appeared attractive to flat land dwellers who saw the opportunity to use them for reasons of stature. During the Late Helladic period (c 1550-1060 BCE), Mycenaean Greece flourished under new influences from Minoan Crete and the Cyclades. Around 1100 BC, the Mycenaean civilization collapsed and Greece fell into a Dark Age (c.1100-c.750 BCE).

The Orientalizing Period started during the late 8th century BCE, as the Assyrians were advancing along the Mediterranean coast. Phoenicians settled in Cyprus and in western regions of Greece, while Greeks established trading colonies at Al Mina, Syria, and in Ischia (Pithecusae) off the Tyrrhenian coast of Italy. These interchanges led to a period of intensive borrowing in which the Greeks adapted cultural features from the Semitic East. Huge economic development occurred with growth in commerce and manufacturing. As a result a large mercantile class grew and people began to dress sumptuously. Courtesan delighted in wearing sandals with red shoes (Ledger, 1985) and Greek lawgiver, Zaleucus (7th century BCE) decreed only courtesans be allowed to wear sandals decorated with gilt and jewelled buckles. The ancient games started in 776 BC., and competitors ran barefoot but as the Greek Empire extended more athletes from colder climates came to race 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 recognised 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. Not only did the thongs act as attachments they also gave added support to the foot and the straping became a sign of rank (McDowell, 1989).

Between 750-c.500 BCE (the Archaic period) the population expanded and many young Greeks left to set up colonies in Magn Graecia (Southern Italy and Sicily), Asia Minor and further afield. Greek colonization eventually reached as far northeast as present day Ukraine and Russia (Taganrog). To the west the coasts of Illyria, Sicily and Southern Italy were settled, followed by Southern France, Corsica, and even northeastern Spain. Greek colonies were also founded in Egypt and Libya. They took clothing familiar to them and subsumed local costume too. Ellegant feet was very much on the mind of Greek women and the poet Sappho (c. 630 and 612 - 570 BCE) yearned for her feet to be in braided shoes made in various colours wrought by Lydian art. She also sang of “sandals of gold” (Ledger, 1985). According to Lister (1987) foot soldiers went barefoot but wore leg guards or greaves made form embossed metal to protect their legs. Warry (1980) suggests attempts to protect the feet only hampered movement.

Like most Mediterranean Civilisations, Greeks went barefoot indoors up until 325 BCE (Ledger, 1985; and Lister 1987) and sandals worn only when walking outside (Turner Wilcox, 2008).  By the seventh century BCE sumptuary laws prevented women from wearing more than three garments at a time which may account for why many women went barefoot.

Pedila was the Greek name for the sole made of wood or thick leather which was tied onto the foot with thongs or ribbon laces (Rossi 2000,and Yue and Yue, 1997). These were made to one shape and fitted both feet. The pedila is thought to have been a variation on the Persian sandalon or sandalion in Greek. Better quality pedilas evetually made from leather or felt were cut to fit each foot. These became fashionable among the wealthy and later cork was used as a midsole to give added height. A modified pedila was an open fronted boot which was tied together with laces. Boots were generally reserved for athletes, hunters and travellers. The pedila eventually became the Krepis (circa 4 BCE).

During the 5th and 4th centuries BCE, ancient Greece was the most advanced economy in the world. Style became major feature of the period and shoe and sandal making had attained a high degree of sophistication with many types of sandals, each designed or designated for different functions (Sparkes Hall, 1847; Girotti, 1986). According to Boucher (1988) by the end of the 5th century BCE,  the Greeks had transposed into costume the more dominent ideas of their architecture which meant they were more ornate and sophisticated.. Sicyonia was the main city for shoe making in Greece and according to Yue and Yue (1997) shoe making consisted of a division of labour with some workers cutting out leather and others attaching soles. Most sandals were custom made but ready to wear sandals were also sold. Male and female sandals were sold in separate shops.

Sandals were made in both animal and vegetable materials. According to Sparkes Hall (1847) vegetable sandals were called baxa or baxea and were the preferred footwear of philosophers and priests. Mathematician and philosopher Pythagorus (c. 570-c. 495 BCE) was a vegan and believed in reincarnation as animals (Ledger, 1985). He wore sandals made from plaited papyrus and required his disciples to wear sandals made from tree bark. The poet, Aeschylus (525-456 BCE.) developed high wedged soles to give added majesty to the actors playing gods and heroes in his plays. The added height and modified gate gave distinctive character to leading thespians. Classical Greek culture held powerful influence on the Roman Empire, which in turn carried it to many parts of the Mediterranean region and Europe.

While sandals prevailed among the free citizens, going barefoot outdoors was considered more the mark of a slave (Ledger, 1985). Exceptions were Philosopher like Socrates (469 BC–399 BCE) and Plato (c 428 – 347 BCE) who preferred to walk barefoot. The former also campaigned to encourage people to walk barefoot but this only met with dumb silence (Turner Wilcox, 2008). By all accounts the Greeks took good care of their feet and adapted footwear for every type of activity. Empedocles (490–430 BCE)was a philosopher and physician preferred to wear sandals richly wrought in brass (Ledger, 1985)

Eventually when soldiers did wear sandals they were responsible for buying them. Athenian general and statesman Alcibiades (450-404 BCE) wore snugly fitting peaked toed shoes made from pliable yellow leather. These were intricately laced around the whole foot. He preferred these to the ordinary sandals which he considered gave little protection to the soldier (Ledger,1985). He developed the ‘alcibade’ which was a low military boot (similar to a modern high top sneaker) made from heavy leather. This laced to the front and covered the foot. This was later turned into a luxury footwear worn by civilians. Other generals too turned their creative minds to designing military footwear (Turner Wilcox 2008). According to Ledger (1985), Xenophor (438-354 BCE) discovered after he marched his army to Euxine (Black Sea) his soldier's shoes were inadequate for the weather conditions. Most soldiers wore the Krepis made from heavy leather with an ankle strapping (Yue and Yue, 1997). The robust toe less shoes laced or strapped to the front. A common cliche was shoes were removed after withdrawing from combat. In the temple of Nike Apteros in Athens (constructed around 420 BCE) there is a carving of Victory untying her sandals. During the Corinthian Wars Iphcrates (420 -348 BCE) made his own kothorni. The general who beat the Spartans (392 BCE) was a former shoemaker.

A lighter version of the Krepis was made in brightly coloured leather and worn by fashionable Greek women and effeminate men. There were at least 22 different styles for women alone and a precise shoe etiquette developed which included keeping all ties worn neat to the feet. There were many ways to fasten sandals and often ladies sandals were highly decorated on the soles (Girotti, 1986). As shown by the Tangara statuettes, dating from the 4th century BCE, more elegant shoes were worn by women, e.g. red ones with yellow edged soles. Shoes were used to identify station with the height of the sole and the colour orientation indicating the social class of the wearer (Yue and Yue, 1997). Courtesans wore footwear made from soft leather dyed white, green, lemon or yellow. Betrothed girls and young brides wore sandals made from leather dyed white. The lightening process of leather was slow and costly but according to McDowell (1989) pale coloured sandals became a mark of position and wealth.

Women of ill repute (or salmakides) wore platform krepis which gave them a distinctive walk and created an audible "clack" when their sandals hit against the ground (Caovilla, 1998) . Others had “follow me” carved on the sole which left a tell tale direction to customers (Yue and Yue, 1997). A variation was when lovers carved the name of their loved one on their soles and with every step left an imprint in the sand to witness his total devotion (Lister , 1987).

By now extravagant footwear was common and Lycurgus (c386 - 323 BCE) an Attic lawgiver and reformer ordered the populace to go barefoot in an attempt to curb these excesses (Ledger, 1985). The edict again failed principally because what differentiated slaves from free men was what they had on their feet. Young engaged women wore white leather sandals with a band across the foot at the base of the toes (Ledger, 1985). Ankle and heel straps joined a narrow thong attachment to the sole at the arch of the foot. An ornamental leather heart often covered the insteps (Lister, 1987). The historian Dicaearchus described the women of Thebes wearing simple low shoes of fine yellow leather cut so beautifully they appeared to go barefoot (Ledger, 1985).

By the time of the death of Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BCE) the Greek Empire had reached its zenith and was spread as far as modern Afghanistan and Pakistan, and where the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom and the Indo-Greek Kingdom survived until the end of the 1st century BCE. Alexander brought Greek custom to the lands he conquered. The Hellenistic period (323-146 BC) followed his death but Greek culture continued to expand into the near and middle east.

The general Philopoemen (253 - 183 BCE)bebuked his soldiers for wearing unsuitable shoes and ordered them to have the best footwear to fight the Spartans (Ledger, 1985). The Greek historian Polybius (ca. 200–118 BCE )also cautioned soldiers against devoting too much thought to their sandals at the expense of the rest of their equipment (McDowell, 1989).

Sandal designs beame more sophisticated with several unique applications, for instance the fourth century BCE, Greek poet, Philetas of Cos (340 - 285 BCE)was considered so thin he wore heavy soled sandals made from led to keep him from blowing over(McDowell, 1989). According to Ledger (1985) a flute player had special musical sandals made. The craftsman concealed a metal device that emitted sounds under the pressure of his feet as he walked.

Musical Sandal

Greek shoes were now highly desirable to wealthy Romans because of their elegant craftsmanship and unsurpassed luxury. The Greeks emphasised design and beauty with elegance, refinement, extravagance and rich ornamentation, especially for women. Among the ancient Greeks, shoemakers began to acquire the reputation for character which they have held ever since.

Apollo the God of the physicians, was also the God of shoemakers, and it was customary for every shoemaker to keep a tame crow outside their place of business (Ledger, 1985). Shoemakers (or Credo) became esteemed citizens in ancient Greece and was considered a separate craft to lowly cobbling. Footwear became so well established that many shoe makers eventually specialised in various tasks and products. Some cut hides, others assembled the various parts and there were even men and women's shoemakers. Shoes were made from many unconventional materials and for specific requirements. Sandals, shoes and boots were made with the soles of leather, matting or felt, cut to the shape of the foot and varying in thickness; if the wearer wished to add to his height he wore a thicker sole. According to Turner Wilcox, (2008) slaves were banned from wearing footwear in cities although outside the town they could wear rough clog- like sandals with a called a ‘sculponae,’ which was first seen in Egypt. By the first century AD, Plutarch (c. 46 – 120 CE, ) noted going barefoot was a the sign of a slave.

An old Greek legend tells of an old man's advice to husbands to keep their women at home by giving their wives heavy shoes to wear. The clever women foiled their husbands by putting pieces of tree bark under the soles. The importance of the sandal in mythology is seen in the story of Persephone the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. Referred to as "she of the beautiful ankles" she was abducted to the underworld by Pluto and required to remain there for the duration of the winter months before re-emerging in the Spring. Symbolically this represented the start of vegetative growth. Moments before her abduction, Persephone walked through the quiet meadow wearing sandals. The sandal came to represent to the Greeks and Romans the boundary between death and rebirth, light and darkness, heaven and hell. It was commonly thought the body absorbed vital energies of the boundary where human and divine coexist through the sandal.  Aphrodite, the Goddess of love, was often depicted naked except for a pair of sandals. Participation in sport was barefoot and when athletic sandals were introduced ordinary Greek citizens thought them decadent, anaesthetic and somehow a violation of the Olympic ideal (Franzine, 1985).

According to Sparkes Hall (1847) Greek women were also known to wear shoes and half boots lined with cat fur. Further the muzzles and claws were left hanging down the front of the boot for decoration.

Boucher F 1988 A history of costume in the West Thames and Hudson: New York.
Caovilla PB 1998 Shoes:Objects of art and seduction Thames and Hudson: London.
Franzine R 1993 The barefoot hiker Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
Girotti E 1986 Footwear: La Calzaturoi Chronicle Books: San Francisco.
Ledger FE 1985 Put your foot down: a treatise on the history of shoes Melksham: Uffington Press.
Lister M 1987 Costume:An illustrated survey from ancient times to the 20th century Prays Inc: Boston.
McDowell C 1989 Shoes: Fashionand fantasy Thames and Hudson: London.
Rossi W 2000 The complete footwear dictionary (2nd ed) Kreiger Publishing Co Florida.
Rossi W 1993 The sexlife of the foot and shoe Kreiger Press: Florida.
Sparkes Hall J 1847 The book of the feet: A history of boots and shoes (2nd Edition) Bibliolife: New York.
Turner Wilcox R 2008 The Mode in footwear Dover Pictorial Archive Seres: NY.
Yue C and Yue D 1997 Shoes: Their history in words and pictures Houghton Miffin Company: Boston.
Warry J. 1980 Warfare in the classical world Salamander Books Ltd: London.


  1. this is so amazing, detailed, and informative Greek sandal history, i really enjoyed it from start to finish. you create this content with some great research. Keep it up

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