Monday, May 30, 2011

Roman Sandals: Military footwear

Footwear played a major role in the development of the Roman Civilization. Better shod armies travelled further across rougher terrain. As the empire expanded however supplies to the outposts from Rome became impractical. Roman sandal and shoe making and vegetable tanning (van Driel-Murray,2007) were therefore introduced to the conquered. The Roman Empire stretched far beyond Greek boundaries and the terrain and weather conditions necessitated more sturdy footwear (van Driel-Murray,2007). The Greeks were preoccupied with elegance and grace whereas during the Republic (circa 509 BCE – 43AD), the Romans were more pragmatic and devised thongs suitable for military activities. The Etruscans had developed brass tacks and the Romans adapted these to hobnailed footwear suitable for foot soldiers required to march on hard and rough terrain. The shoe tack turned the humble sandal into militarized hob nailed sandals ideal for protection and traction to optimized grip for the marching soldier and combatant. Gradually local shoe making crafts were incorporated and jubilant soldiers returned to Rome proudly sporting their ethnic shoes as souvenirs from successful campaigns. During Imperial Rome (27 BCE–AD 47/1461) shoes were supplied to soldiers and because most of the sandals were mass produced this created a massive industry. According to Sparkes Hall, soldiers often had to pay for their own hobnails although at times some Emperors did have them issued free. According to van Driel- Murray (2007) soldiers could expect three pairs per year.

Often soldiers celebrated their return to Rome by substituting the bronze nails with gold and silver tacks. Foot gear changed little during the Imperial era of Roman history.

The design of footwear designated rank and the campagus was a boot worn by officers. These were heavily tooled and guilded according to rank with ornamental insignia, such as a real or ivory head and paws of a small animal i.e. a fox, over the instep. The boots laced up the front with a leather tongue to protect the dorsum of the foot and anterior shin. The higher the boot was worn on the leg the more superior the rank of the officer.

Soldiers up to the rank of centurion wore caligae or military sandal. These came in several types i.e. scouts wore speculator; horsemen were shod with equestris; and fighting men wore clavata with iron nails protruding underneath for greater traction on rugged ground. Caligae were sturdy, thick-soled sandals with an upper that reached the instep. A lattice of soft, leather strips was tied around the shins or the bridge of the foot by a tongue. The toes were left bare.


When Caius Caesar Germanicus (AD 12-41) was a boy he lived with his father in a fortified garrison and became popular with his father's soldiers. They nicknamed him Caligula because he wore children sized caligae. When Caligula (Claudius I 10 BC- AD 54) was murdered in AD 41, Claudius was proclaimed emperor by the Praetorians. During his reign some marines from Ostia demanded compensation for the marching shoes they wore out. Claudius ordered them to go barefoot and the entire fleet was forbidden from wearing shoes.

Mounting concerns arose with the fashion to accessorize soldier’s footwear and Emporer Lucius Domitius Aurelianus (AD 270 - 275) tried to limit excesses of fashion by forbidding men from wearing coloured (red, yellow and green) shoes and allowing only women to choose materials and colours freely. Emperor Diocletian (284-305) reformed sumptuary law governing clothing and costume laws worn by soldiers and non-military government bureaucrats. Clothing including footwear became more decorative.

By the 4th century AD, galoshes were fashioned in cowhide with heavy leather soles. The gallicae was originally from Gaul and appeared in Rome in the last century of the Republic. This was an entirely closed boot somewhere between the sandal and the shoe. The Romans adapted their boots from the Gauls and only wore them in bad weather. Gaulish boots became known as galoshes (Sunshine & Tiegreen, 1995). Gallienus launched the campagus and the zancha, the latter being a high leather boot fitting closely to the leg; it was supposed to have originated in Armenia or the Crimea, and thought to have been a style disseminated by the Scythians. Another shoe worn by the military was the cnemis. This was a simple sandal combined with leggings. Frequently the greaves were made of brass and bronze and lined with leather.

Soldiers wore socks when in colder climes but also disrobed before entering Rome. For a time socks and short breeches were banned as leg covers but in time underwear became part of normal military costume.

References
Sparkes Hall J The book of feet: A history of boots and shoes
van Driel-Mauuar C Footwear in the north-western prvinces of the Roman Empire In Goubitz O., van Driel-Murray C., and Groenman-van Waateringe W 2007 Stepping through time:Archaeological footwear from prehistoric times until 1800 Stichting Promotie Archeologie: Zwolle.

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