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Saturday, 30 June 2012

Roman Footgear


Examples of the footgear of Roman Britain have been found in many places where the conditions were favourable for the preservation of the leather, notably in London and at Bar Hill and Newstead. Roman writers distinguished several varieties. The solea and sandal, bound to the foot by straps, was not ordinarily used out of doors. The calceus, the close-fitting boot which completely covered the foot, was the national foot-attire for public occasions, and etiquette ordered that it should be worn with the toga in the city. It was secured by straps, which were wound round the lower part of the leg and tied in front; and their number, colour, and other details marked the rank of the wearer. The boots of the ordinary citizens were not so high, and were fastened over the instep by tongues or latchets extending from the sides. Between the sandal and the boot were various transitional forms which may be generically classed as shoes. The gallica had low sides with loops, through which a thong was laced to secure it to the foot, and the crepida appears to have been similar; and both were sometimes classed as soleae.

The caliga was the strongly made sandal-like shoe with open sides, worn by soldiers, and held by straps wound round the leg. It was also worn by the inferior officers, but the higher officers wore the calceus. The soccus was a light low shoe answering to our slipper. The carbatina, apparently made of a single piece of leather, was used by rustics. The cothurnus was a hunting-boot, and custom demanded that it should be worn by tragic actors, as the soccus by comic actors. The differences between some of these have not been satisfactorily determined; still less can the Roman names, and the classification they imply, be satisfactorily applied to the footgear of Roman Britain. If by solea is understood a simple sole held to the foot by straps, it was rarely used in this country, for the large 'find' at Bar Hill yielded only one. On the other hand, a large number of shoes with low openwork sides or borders have been found, and these are usually described as sandals. They appear to correspond with the gallica and crepida — half-sandal, half-shoe. These pass, however, into the shoe which wholly encased the foot, some with openwork and others with solid uppers, and the shoe passes into the boot, of which only few examples have been found in this country. The shoes are of several types, and one of these may be the carbatina. Many of the Bar Hill shoes were certainly worn by soldiers, but none quite answers to the classical caliga.

The shoe was evolved from the sandal. The addition of a heel-piece and toe-cap gave the sandal a firmer hold to the foot; and by extending the heel-piece forward on either side as a tongue-like projection with an eye to receive a thong or lace passing over the instep, the strap could be dispensed with. Fig. 69, A, a child's shoe in the Guildhall, illustrates the outcome. The uppers are of two pieces of leather sewn together at the heel and the toe. They are solid for nearly an inch all round to serve as a sheath to protect the foot against stones and mud; but above that level, portions are cut out so as to leave a framework of narrow bands, apparently a survival of the straps of the sandal. From the lace-holes, the bands radiate to various points between the top of the back and the 'waist' of the sole, so that the pull of the lace is well distributed. Over the toe they run transversely, just in the direction where strength is required. An elaborate man's shoe of the form was found at Bar Hill; and in the Guildhall is an unusual variant in which the whole of the uppers is reduced to a mere skeleton of slender bands reaching down to the sole.

                             Fig. 69.  Shoes of several types. (C, 1/2; all the rest,  1/4) 

It is obvious that shoes like these, with their uppers reduced to mere filaments of leather, were only adapted for light wear. Not so the child's shoe from Bar Hill, D, which has a sturdy workaday look, and its grip to the foot is increased by a second pair of latchets. It is the type of a large class of shoes adapted for hard wear, to which many of the Bar Hill specimens belonged — presumably soldiers' shoes. These shoes were sometimes ornamented with punched work, but only sparingly so, and the leather was never reduced to bands. Those intended for heavy wear had usually a 'counter' — a stiff piece of leather to support the back of the heel.

Another type of shoe suggests a different line of development from the sandal. If the heel-piece is continued along each side of the sole to the point as a low sheath or kerb with a marginal series of holes, through which a thong can be laced from side to side over the toes and instep, we have an incipient shoe which becomes more shoe-like, from the modern point of view, by the development of the kerb. Fig. 69, B, is one of the side leathers of a shoe of the kind in which the kerb is moderately developed. Carry the development further, the lace-holes will meet and the foot will be completely enclosed.

We have now arrived at a form which resembles the modern laced shoe, except that as a rule the lacing started from much nearer the point than at present. Some of these shoes were elaborately ornamented. One in the Guildhall has the lace-holes elongated into loops and the sides are covered with a finely punched diaper with rosettes at intervals, as the first example in C. Part of another with equally elaborate patterning was found at Bar Hill. Two other examples of punched work found in these and shoes of other types are given in C. In a variant of the above type, the lace-holes of the one leather are developed into long loops which reach over the foot to those of the opposite leather. F is a restoration of a woman's shoe of the kind, in the Guildhall. In the same collection is a boy's boot, which represents an extreme variant in another direction, and remarkably anticipates the modern laced boot. The upper, which is solid, is sewn together almost as far as the bottom of the instep, and extending from this to the top of the boot are oval lace-holes, ten on either side, within a scalloped margin as in B.

Some shoes may be regarded as of mixed type. The boy's shoe from Bar Hill, G, has two heel latchets in the form of long loops, a pair of side loops, and a pair at the point. E, in the Guildhall, is a more elaborate example, and Mr. Roach Smith figures another still more advanced which combines the side-laced form of F, with heel-latchets.

In another and primitive type of shoe, sole and uppers are made of a single piece of leather, but occasionally the sole is fortified by an additional leather. Several examples have been found at Bar Hill, one at Netherby, and another at Birdoswald on the Wall of Hadrian. In these shoes the only seam is up the back of the heel; each side is cut into two latchets with lace-holes; but the distinguishing feature is the manner in which the toe-cap was formed. This, as will be seen in the Birdoswald shoe, H, was accomplished by cutting the leather into a series of wedge-shaped strips, each with an eyelet at the end. These strips were then bent back, and the eyelets threaded together, presumably by the lace. Dr. Haverfield suggests that this kind of shoe was the carbatina, and mentions that it is still used by the Carpathian hillmen and by peasants in Italy, Roumania, and Bulgaria.

The soles of the sandals, shoes and boots closely approximate to that of the foot. Not seldom the first or the first and second toes were indicated, and occasionally all the toes as in I, a sole in the Guildhall Museum. J, another Guildhall example, is a typical sole of the coarser shoes intended for rough wear, and it will be noticed that it still conforms to the natural shape. The sole is usually of three or four layers of leather with a thinner insole, and the heel is never raised by additional layers. In sandal-like shoes with low openwork sides, the upper is sometimes of a single piece of leather continuing across the sole; but most often, the upper is of two leathers with their lower margins tucked in between the insole and the sole. The whole fabric was fastened together by nails clenched on the insole, but this was occasionally done by stitches in the lighter shoes.

A notable feature of the soles of the era is the armature of hob-nails on the under surface, not merely of men's, but of women's and children's footgear. Even the lightest and most elaborate shoes usually have it, and the exceptions are comparatively few. The nails are arranged in a variety of ways. Occasionally they are loosely scattered all over the sole, or are scattered in clusters of threes; or they are confined to a marginal row all round the sole. Men's soles were usually thickly studded, the nails within the marginal row being often arranged in some pattern as indicated in J, or in close rows leaving little of the leather visible. The custom of thickly studding soles with nails was common in Italy, and Pliny in describing a peculiar fish likened its scales to the nails of a sandal. Pitt-Rivers found, with the hob-nails at the feet of two skeletons at Rotherley, several cleats from 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 ins. long, the use of which he compared with that of Blakey's boot protectors.


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