Shoes and Sandals
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Shoes and Sandals

Warriors in Greek art are often barefoot. For soft modern feet, in a world where broken glass and sharp iron are so cheap that they are abandoned on the ground, that might not be the wisest choice. Warriors in trousers normally wear shoes in both Greek and Near Eastern art, and Achaemenid art takes care to differentiate different kinds worn with different national styles of clothing. Both cuneiform and Greek texts indicate that there were a wide range of types of footwear in use, and that styles of shoe communicated class, gender, and occupation. Slippers for indoors are different than winter boots for farmwork or a young person’s best dancing shoes. But ideas of what kind of shoes are appropriate for different tasks vary widely, so its wise to study the evidence and chose one style to copy, without claiming that it represent all shoes from your chosen culture or assuming that you know better than the ancients what a soldier needs. As late as the beginning of the last century, simple shoes made from a single piece of leather existed a day’s walk from complicated factory-made shoes with metal fittings.

Shoes in mainland Greece are best known through paintings, sculptures, and chance references in classical literature.

  • I. Marc Carlson, “Shoemaker Pictures” {a good collection of photos to track down in higher resolution and source}
  • ‘shoemaker vase’ in the Ashmolean, inventory number AN1896-1908 G.247
  • ‘The House of Simon the Shoemaker’ in Athens (the only known site with hobnails from classical Greece)
  • Arthur Alexis Bryant, “Greek Shoes in the Classical Period,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology Vol. 10 (1899) pp. 57-102 {I have not read this but Christian Cameron recommended it in 2009}
  • Morrow, Katherine D. (1985) Greek Footwear and the Dating of Sculpture. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Xenophon, Cyropaedia, 8.2.5 “For just as all other arts are developed to superior excellence in large cities, in that same way the food at the king’s palace is also elaborately prepared with superior excellence. For in small towns the same workman makes chairs and doors and plows and tables, and often this same artisan builds houses, and even so he is thankful if he can only find employment enough to support him. And it is, of course, impossible for a man of many trades to be proficient in all of them. In large cities, on the other hand, inasmuch as many people have demands to make upon each branch of industry, one trade alone, and very often even less than a whole trade, is enough to support a man: one man, for instance, makes shoes for men, and another for women; and there are places even where one man earns a living by only stitching soles (ὑπόδημα), another by cutting them out, another by sewing the uppers (χιτῶνας) together, while there is another who performs none of these operations but only assembles the parts. It follows, therefore, as a matter of course, that he who devotes himself to a very highly specialized line of work is bound to do it in the best possible manner.”
  • Theophrastus, Characters on penny-pinchers who keep repairing old shoes
  • Nicholas Sekunda on Lakonian sandals: Christian Cameron was enthusiastic about this 10 years ago but did not give the name, I think he meant “Laconian shoes with Roman senatorial laces,” British School at Athens Studies Vol. 16, SPARTA AND LACONIA: FROM PREHISTORY TO PRE-MODERN (2009), pp. 253-259 which I have not read

There are a great many texts on curing, dying, and leatherworking from Mesopotamia plus paintings, sculptures, and brick reliefs of shoes from Susa and Babylon. The shoes of Chehrābād saltman #4 have not yet been fully published but there are photos; the boot and shin of Saltman in Tehran are carbon dated sometime between the 1st and 6th century CE. The Persian Period shoes from Elephantine are also worth studying, but the colonists were Jews and Arameans (with a few Iranian and Babylonian officers). Soldiers’ shoes are usually called šēnu in Babylonian texts.

  • Bonegnaar, A.C.V. (1997) The Neo-Babylonian Ebabbar Temple at Sippar pp. 397-399, 411-415
  • Salonen, Armas (1969) Die Fußbekleidung der alten Mesopotamier nach sumerisch-akkadischen Quellen: eine lexikalische und kulturgeschichtliche Untersuchung (Helsinki : Snomalainen Tiedeakatemia)
  • Rudenko …
  • RlA s.v. Fußbekleidung (old!)
  • RlA s.v. Leder(industrie) §33 Fußbekleidung
    “Die Sohle der Sandalen und Stiefel wurde aus Rindsleder hergestellt; als Oberleder diente Ziegenleder (Nik. II 438; BIN 9, 383; 423 usw.; 328, 426, 428, usw.). Die Innenseite könnte mit Filz bekleidet werden (Steinkeller, OrAnt, 19, 88ff.)”
  • RlA s.v. Schuhe(werk)
  • Veldmeijer, André J. (2016) Leatherwork from Elephantine (Aswan, Egypt): Analysis and Catalogue of the Ancient Egyptian & Persian Leather Finds. Sidestone Press: Leiden.

On the subject of overshoes for wet, muddy, snowy, or rocky ground, the Astronomical Diaries from Babylonia take for granted that in heavy rain, people take off their shoes/sandals.

Woven sandals (or sandals with woven soles) were common in some areas such as Egypt and Highland Central Asia. I have not explored evidence for these in Mesopotamia or Iran, but soldiers in art from the Achaemenid Empire generally seem to be wearing closed shoes, and very humble people in Mesopotamia were supplied with leather shoes made by an aškāpu.

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