Shoes & Boots
Roman Shoes & Roman Sandals
Walk in the footsteps of antiquity with shoes made from genuine vegetable tanned leather.
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Veni, vidi, vici - the Roman shoe triumphs to this day
Roman shoes, also known as caligae (singular: caliga), were the boots of the Roman military, worn and loved by legionaries. Thanks to their light weight and supple leather, soldiers in the Imperial and Republican eras were able to cover long distances with ease. A legionary once spoke of the 'benefit to his foot when it was summer', when heavy boots could be shed and replaced with airy Roman shoes and Roman sandals. But it was not only the legionaries who took advantage of the benefits of Roman shoes; they were also seen in the higher offices up to the level of centurion, while tribunes and legates wore the traditional high-heeled boots (also known as calceus). The versatility of Roman footwear also allowed auxiliary troops (the mounted cavalry) to wear Roman shoes with spurs.
The caligae proved then, as they do now, to be robust footwear, easily penetrated by dust, dirt and water, but just as easily wiped clean. What a relief it must have been to wade through a river after a long march by the legions. We all know the liberating feeling of stepping out of a shoe with little ventilation. Caligae were designed in a very different way, where constant ventilation also prevented sweating, leaving the wearer in a refreshed and balanced state. Although caligae did little to protect the foot on hard ground, they were said to place the foot in an optimal walking position. Experimental archaeological tests have shown that Roman shoes were unquestionably supportive and incredibly robust, even though putting them on could often take 4-5 minutes.
The making of caligae - a traditional Roman art
The production of caligae and the use of materials have been handed down to the present day and have some peculiarities. This traditional craft had a decisive advantage at the time: it was possible to repair or adjust Roman shoes yourself at any time, or to make a new pair very quickly. The upper leather (made from one piece of leather) combined with a complex system of studs formed the sole of the Roman shoe.
Almost all the caligae found have the same manufacturing process and similar cutting patterns, suggesting that the Romans were already engaged in some kind of optimised mass shoe production, as this saved money and time, and at times many of these shoes were needed for the legions. The sole of the shoes was reinforced with 2 more layers of leather and about 70-90 iron nails, which gave the shoe a profile and also protected the leather from excessive wear. It is also thought that the hard lower profile of the shoes was used very effectively for kicking enemies and in combat.
Caligae - the summer shoes of the Romans
It is thought that the caligae had to give way to a closed shoe because, although they were very airy and light, they offered no protection in cold climates. However, the Romans and legionaries knew how to make do and, in addition to Roman shoes, they wore gaiters or stockings and stuffed their caligae with warming materials (e.g. wool or hemp) when they had to stand guard or travel in particularly cold climates.
Cavalrymen also used gaiters and protective leather, as their feet would quickly freeze with the caligae high on the horse. On long marches in summer, the legionaries were even issued with a clavarium to replace the worn nails in their soles. A set of nails would last for about 500 - 1000 kilometres. However, just as with modern shoes, this depended on the wear and tear and walking habits of the individual Roman. A Roman legionary could easily wear 3-4 pairs of Roman shoes a year before they wore out and had to be replaced.
The journey of the caligae into modern times
The classic caligae had to give way to the closed shoe and by the 4th century it was no longer just a military shoe but also the Roman shoe for farmers, muleteers and was often used in Roman villages and for farming. In the 20th century, the Roman shoe is a reminder and remnant of a historical and glorious time of the Romans and is often used in historical films.
The Caligae is still worn today by many enthusiasts because it is very similar to a barefoot shoe and supports the foot in the correct position when walking. Today's Caligae is made from soft, natural leather that can be supple but also resilient. The flexible fit of the shoe still allows it to be individually laced and tightened, keeping the wearer grounded while running. A Caligae re-trains our genetically inherited optimal gait and promotes the optimal use of our foot and leg muscles.
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