introduction

CALIGULA (37-41 CE), the Roman Emperor who retained into adulthood the nickname ‘Little Boots’ given to him as a child, was well known for his eccentricities. These extended to his clothing and footwear. According to the writer Suetonius (Life of Caligula 52), in this area as elsewhere he flouted the customs of his country, of his fellow citizens, and even of his sex. He often appeared in public in bejewelled cloaks, bracelets and silky dresses. Sometimes he would have Greek sandals (crepidae) or actors’ platform shoes  (cothurni) on his feet, sometimes military boots (caligae) or women’s slippers (socci muliebres). These items might be topped off with a golden beard and a thunderbolt or trident.

Actors’ shoes and Greek sandals would have been seen as oddities, and military boots, acceptable on a toddler growing up in an army camp, would have looked outlandish on a head of state. But the sensibilities of the Roman upper classes would have been most offended by the women’s slippers, which would have marked Caligula out as decidedly queer.

A Roman caliga, excavated near Xanten, where Caligula’s father Germanicus and his family were stationed during military campaigns in Germany. RömerMuseum, Landschaftsverband Rheinland.

Like the sober and respectable Marcus Aurelius, who became Emperor over a hundred years later, what Caligula ought to have been wearing on his feet on state occasions was his calcei,  leather shoes fastened with straps which covered most of the foot and ankle, and sometimes extended as far as the calf. If a man was dressed in a toga, then beneath it he should have put on a respectable pair of calcei.

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen
                                    Lazzaro Baldi, The Assassination of the Emperor                                       Caligula. Galleria Spada, Rome

Shoes, like other items of clothing, serve to articulate our class, status and gender. Though Caligula was a rich and powerful ruler, he couldn’t get away for long with trampling over the protocol and dress codes of the senatorial class to which he belonged. For the Romans, as for most of us today, garments shaped and advertised their individual and group identities. Transgressing the boundaries of those identities can make us look original and creative, but it can also arouse disapproval, ridicule and enmity. Dressing in army boots cut no ice with members of Caligula’s praetorian bodyguard. Some of them were soon conspiring with a group of senators, and at the age of twenty-nine Caligula and his wife and daughter were cut down by a couple of swordsmen inside the imperial palace.

L  Baldi,

On this page I shall be exploring the meaning of shoes in the context of power relations in the Roman world.  The evidence is provided chiefly by literature and inscriptions, and by visual media (sculpture, wall paintings, mosaics, and a host of smaller objects, such as coins), but we also have some real shoes. Most Roman footwear was made from leather, and we are fortunate in that the dampness of the soil in some of Rome’s northern territories – in Britain, the Netherlands and Germany – has helped to preserve quite a large number of shoes. These furnish us with solid data. Literature and art, on the other hand, can be fanciful. Did the Emperor Hadrian, for example, really appear in public in shoes with decorative lionskin attachments? We can only hope that he did.

Burdur Museum, Sagalassos, Turkey

   shoe types

    wealth and status

barefoot romans

 

HERMES

 

 

MICYLLUS

 

 

HERMES

 

MICYLLUS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HERMES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For crying out loud, Micyllus. Can’t you produce a single moan?

 

 

What?

 

It’s against all the rules for a corpse to cross this stream without groaning bit.

 

Oh, give me a break. Why do you keep rabbiting on about groaning all the time? I’m trying to enjoy this trip.

 

Go on. Just a couple of wails. People expect it.

 

Alright, it you insist. Here goes.

 

(Declaiming) Farewell, leather, farewell!  Ah, Soles, dear old Soles!  Ah, ancient Boots! Woe is me! Never again shall I sit on the ground from dawn till dusk with my belly complaining that my throat been cut three months ago. Never again shall I pace up and down on a winter’s morning, naked, unshod, teeth chattering. My knife, my awl, will you belong to another? Ah, whose will you be, I ask myself …?

 

Yes alright. That will do. We’re nearly there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before the shod foot came the bare one.  In Roman Syria shoelessness might be a mark of poverty, as we would expect. And if we’re to believe the satirist Lucian, the Cobblers’ Children Syndrome (a craftsman so busy he has no time to make anything for his family) could infect the man himself and not just his offspring. In his comic essay Cataplus, or The Voyage to the Underworld, a shoemaker called Micyllus is one of a group of recently deceased people being escorted across the Styx by the god Hermes. As we hear in this extract , the divine conductor of souls is puzzled by Micyllus’s relaxed attitude to his hopeless situation. 

HERMES

Before the shod foot came the bare one.  In Roman Syria shoelessness might be a mark of poverty, as we would expect. And if we’re to believe the satirist Lucian, the Cobblers’ Children Syndrome (a craftsman so busy he has no time to make anything for his family) could infect the man himself and not just his offspring. In his comic essay Cataplus, or The Voyage to the Underworld, a shoemaker called Micyllus is one of a group of recently deceased people being escorted across the Styx by the god Hermes. As we hear in this extract , the divine conductor of souls is puzzled by Micyllus’s relaxed attitude to his hopeless situation. 

HERMES

For crying out loud, Micyllus

Before the shod foot came the bare one.  In Roman Syria shoelessness might be a mark of poverty, as we would expect. And if we’re to believe the satirist Lucian, the Cobblers’ Children Syndrome (a craftsman so busy he has no time to make anything for his family) could infect the man himself and not just his offspring. In his comic essay Cataplus, or The Voyage to the Underworld, a shoemaker called Micyllus is one of a group of recently deceased people being escorted across the Styx by the god Hermes. As we hear in this extract , the divine conductor of souls is puzzled by Micyllus’s relaxed attitude to his hopeless situation. 

Her. Why, Micyllus, have you never an Oh or an Ah? It is quite improper that any shade should cross the stream, and make no moan.

Mi. Get along with you. What have I to do with Ohs and Ahs? I’m enjoying the trip!

Her. Still, just a groan or two. It’s expected.

Mi. Well, if I must, here goes.— Farewell, leather, farewell! Ah, Soles, old Soles!— Oh, ancient Boots!— Woe’s me! Never again shall I sit empty from morn till night; never again walk up and down, of a winter’s day, naked, unshod, with chattering teeth! My knife, my awl, will be another’s: whose, ah! whose?

Her. Yes, that will do. We are nearly there.

(Kat 20)

Gods and heroes
Rich and poor

See Juvenal

Men and women
Slaves and foreigners

Cobblers come naturally to mind when intellectuals and elites look forces of low professions

tise medicine. De methedo medendi

Lucian sees all this as a comedy, Cataplus, or voyage to the Underworld: juxtaposes shoemaker Micyllus w cruel and rapacious rler Megapenthes, who keeps sneaking off to try to return to land of living. Micelles relishes erasure of all dustinctions that matter in the upper world:

‘Bless me, how dark it is . All complexions are alike here, no question of beauty, greater or less. The cloak I used to think shabby passes muster here as well as royal purple. The darkness hides both of them’ (Cataplus 22)

Hermes puzzled by his relaxed attitude.

Her. Why, Micyllus, have you never an Oh or an Ah? It is quite improper that any shade should cross the stream, and make no moan.

Mi. Get along with you. What have I to do with Ohs and Ahs? I’m enjoying the trip!

Her. Still, just a groan or two. It’s expected.

Mi. Well, if I must, here goes.— Farewell, leather, farewell! Ah, Soles, old Soles!— Oh, ancient Boots!— Woe’s me! Never again shall I sit empty from morn till night; never again walk up and down, of a winter’s day, naked, unshod, with chattering teeth! My knife, my awl, will be another’s: whose, ah! whose?

Her. Yes, that will do. We are nearly there.

(Kat 20)

HERE   martial claimed that, in their leisure time and in the more relaxed surroundings of rural life, hardly anyone used it by the early imperial period.[4]
Senators and higher ranking priests were likewise expected to wear the mulleus or “red calceus” (calceus mulleus) along with their red-edged toga praetexta while engaged in their public duties. Festus claimed the mulleus was originally used by the kings of Alba Longa before being adopted by the patricians.[8] Cassius Dio states that the patrician shoes were originally marked with the letter R,[9] although early forms of Latin used an R closer in shape to the later P. Francis X. Ryan has offered that this class distinction in footwear—rather than procedural status—may have been responsible for the name of the backbencher senatores pedarii.[2] Cato the Elder stated that, by the end of the Republic, plebs who had reached curule office were entitled to the formerly patrician footwear.[8] Plebeian generals like Marius who celebrated a triumph were likewise permitted to wear them.[10] Talbert states that by the imperial era there is no conclusive evidence that footwear continued to differ between the classes as a whole,[11] possibly because the emperors began to restrict the use of certain status symbols to themselves.[2]

Other calcei were distinguished by their ornamentation. The “equestrian calceus” (calceus equestris or equester) included distinct crescent-shaped buckles.[citation needed] The “senatorial calceus” (calceus senatorius) was likewise distinguished by a crescent-shaped ornament, an ivory lunula attached to the back of the shoe.[12] By the mid-imperial period, this was probably made of black leather.[13]

The “turned calceus” (New Latin calceus repandus) was an unrelated pointy-toed unisex Etruscan form of footwear, which received its name from a passage in Cicero where he references Juno Sospita’s calceoli, “little calceus-like shoes”.[14]

See also

Before the shod foot came the bare one.  In Roman Syria shoelessness might be a mark of poverty, as we would expect. And if we’re to believe the satirist Lucian, the Cobblers’ Children Syndrome (a craftsman so busy he has no time to make anything for his family) could infect the man himself and not just his offspring. In his comic essay Cataplus, or The Voyage to the Underworld, a shoemaker called Micyllus is one of a group of recently deceased people being escorted across the Styx by the god Hermes. As we hear in this extract , the divine conductor of souls is puzzled by Micyllus’s relaxed attitude to his hopeless situation. 

Her. Why, Micyllus, have you never an Oh or an Ah? It is quite improper that any shade should cross the stream, and make no moan.

Mi. Get along with you. What have I to do with Ohs and Ahs? I’m enjoying the trip!

Her. Still, just a groan or two. It’s expected.

Mi. Well, if I must, here goes.— Farewell, leather, farewell! Ah, Soles, old Soles!— Oh, ancient Boots!— Woe’s me! Never again shall I sit empty from morn till night; never again walk up and down, of a winter’s day, naked, unshod, with chattering teeth! My knife, my awl, will be another’s: whose, ah! whose?

Her. Yes, that will do. We are nearly there.

(Kat 20)

Gods and heroes
Rich and poor

See Juvenal

Men and women
Slaves and foreigners

Cobblers come naturally to mind when intellectuals and elites look forces of low professions

tise medicine. De methedo medendi

Lucian sees all this as a comedy, Cataplus, or voyage to the Underworld: juxtaposes shoemaker Micyllus w cruel and rapacious rler Megapenthes, who keeps sneaking off to try to return to land of living. Micelles relishes erasure of all dustinctions that matter in the upper world:

‘Bless me, how dark it is . All complexions are alike here, no question of beauty, greater or less. The cloak I used to think shabby passes muster here as well as royal purple. The darkness hides both of them’ (Cataplus 22)

Hermes puzzled by his relaxed attitude.

Her. Why, Micyllus, have you never an Oh or an Ah? It is quite improper that any shade should cross the stream, and make no moan.

Mi. Get along with you. What have I to do with Ohs and Ahs? I’m enjoying the trip!

Her. Still, just a groan or two. It’s expected.

Mi. Well, if I must, here goes.— Farewell, leather, farewell! Ah, Soles, old Soles!— Oh, ancient Boots!— Woe’s me! Never again shall I sit empty from morn till night; never again walk up and down, of a winter’s day, naked, unshod, with chattering teeth! My knife, my awl, will be another’s: whose, ah! whose?

Her. Yes, that will do. We are nearly there.

(Kat 20)

HERE   martial claimed that, in their leisure time and in the more relaxed surroundings of rural life, hardly anyone used it by the early imperial period.[4]
Senators and higher ranking priests were likewise expected to wear the mulleus or “red calceus” (calceus mulleus) along with their red-edged toga praetexta while engaged in their public duties. Festus claimed the mulleus was originally used by the kings of Alba Longa before being adopted by the patricians.[8] Cassius Dio states that the patrician shoes were originally marked with the letter R,[9] although early forms of Latin used an R closer in shape to the later P. Francis X. Ryan has offered that this class distinction in footwear—rather than procedural status—may have been responsible for the name of the backbencher senatores pedarii.[2] Cato the Elder stated that, by the end of the Republic, plebs who had reached curule office were entitled to the formerly patrician footwear.[8] Plebeian generals like Marius who celebrated a triumph were likewise permitted to wear them.[10] Talbert states that by the imperial era there is no conclusive evidence that footwear continued to differ between the classes as a whole,[11] possibly because the emperors began to restrict the use of certain status symbols to themselves.[2]

Other calcei were distinguished by their ornamentation. The “equestrian calceus” (calceus equestris or equester) included distinct crescent-shaped buckles.[citation needed] The “senatorial calceus” (calceus senatorius) was likewise distinguished by a crescent-shaped ornament, an ivory lunula attached to the back of the shoe.[12] By the mid-imperial period, this was probably made of black leather.[13]

The “turned calceus” (New Latin calceus repandus) was an unrelated pointy-toed unisex Etruscan form of footwear, which received its name from a passage in Cicero where he references Juno Sospita’s calceoli, “little calceus-like shoes”.[14]

See also

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