Thursday, December 23, 2010

Etruscan Sandals

The Etruscan civilization  (700 – 100 BCE) was constrained to the area corresponding roughly to modern Tuscany and flourished in three city confederacies. No one knows the origins of the Etruscans but it is widely believed they were indigenous plus an influx of people from Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). The Etruscans were influenced by Greek traders and the Greeks in Magna Graecia, the Hellenic civilization of southern Italy. There is considerable evidence early Rome was dominated by Etruscans and they were eventually assimilated by Rome around 500 BCE. The end of the Etruscan civilization came with the sacking of Veii in 396 BC, by the Romans. They were eventually brought under Roman rule in 250 B.C.E. By 80 B.C.E. their culture had been virtually destroyed. When iron became the preferred metal, iron mines and the routes to them determined power and in the western Mediterranean and the iron mines and routes to them were controlled by the Etruscans.  The civilization was based on both copper and iron and they became great artisans and developed a thriving culture distinctive from Greece.

The Etruscan people had well-developed costume traditions that combined the influences from Greece and Asia. Clothes of the wealthy were made of fine wool, cotton, and linen, and colour was a major feature. Etruscan women wore elaborately patterned garments and men wore a loin skirt to cover the genitals. Many adopted a Greek-style tunic.  By the middle of the sixth century B.C.E., the distinctive tebenna became the most common male garment. Similar to the Greek chlamys, the tebenna was a long cloak that was draped over the left shoulder and then wrapped around the torso under the right arm. It was often decorated with clavi, stripes of colour to indicate status or rank in society. Later the tebenna became the model for the Roman toga.

According to Turner Wilcox (2008), the Etruscans became adept shoe makers. The most common types of footwear were high sandals, mules, slippers, ankle boots and one characteristic type of shoe, with upward curving toes. The latter may have been a reference to the Phrygian (Turkish) origins of the Etruscans where turned up shoes were previously known. Fashionable women in the late 6th c BCE wore red shoes with turned up toes. Pointed toed shoes were replaced with sandlas by the 5th c BCE. Later shoes made by Etruscan craftsmen became highly sought after in ancient Rome and Greece. 

Boots with tight peaked toes

Sandals with hinged wooden soles reinforced with bronze were especially popular and commonly referred to as ‘Tyrrhenian sandals.” According to Rossi (2000) the hinged sandals helped natural foot flexion.  

Leather Sandals
Fine leather uppers of various colours were often embroidered, painted and sown with jewels. These were fastened with gilt or golden straps.    

Soft leather shoe sewn with jewels

Etruscan shoe makers developed a technique to attach the sole of the sandal to the upper with metal tacks. Prior to this, sandals were stitched and could with wear break easily. Tacks not only secured a better bond but also offered greater traction to grip the ground. This small but important innovation meant with more robust footwear the Roman Empire could expand.  The Greek endormis (fur lined boot), was also worn to protect the legs from the cold.  Etruscan soldiers fought bare footed but had metal or leather greaves to protect their shins. By the Second Century BCE slippers made from fine leather and dyed yellow  or cloth became fashionable.

Boucher F 1988 A history of costume in the West Thames and Hudson: London
Rossi W 2000 The complete footwear dictionary (2nd edition) Kreiger Publishing Co: Florida.Turner Wilcox R  2008 The mode in footwear Dover Punblications: NY.


  1. Hi Cameron,
    Best wishes for the holidays.

    Is that an Etruscan sandal with 2 "straps" above your posting of 12/23/2010? I have seen these as examples of Roman sandals.
    Bill Bolen

  2. Apparently the Etruscans were very influencial in Roman costume. Hence there seems to be a theme across all the Mediterean civilisations , like peak toes. Chronologically these appear first in Assyrian footwear, then Egyptian, then Greek and eventually Estruscan costume.

  3. Good informative article for Sandals, thanks for sharing.