Skip to content

Roman footwear

Updated Wednesday 1st July 1998

Romans might be known for their sandals - but there's much more in their shoeboxes.

Mark Beabey Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team

On Open Minds, Mark Beabay demonstrated how a simple Cabatina would have been constructed. The leather used is most likely to have come from a cow, goat or deer. It would have been quite thick and have been prepared using a simple vegetable tanning process.

An example of a Roman soccus Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team

After the leather has been cut to shape, the shoe is created by cutting a number of slits around the edge of the leather, thoroughly soaking the leather in water, threading a string through the slits and drawing the shoe into shape around a last. When the leather is dry the last is removed and the shoe maintains the shape.

Roman shoes would often have been individually tailored – even simple shoes have been found with a high degree of decoration, created through punching and stamping the leather.

The footwear would also have been available in roughly the same range of sizes as our shoes are today, although the Romans had, on average, smaller feet than we do. There was, however, little protection from the elements built into the footwear as water was expected to flow through the shoe, rather than be kept out.

The Romans had a great influence on footwear construction and brought the industry on by leaps and bounds in Britain. Their most revolutionary introduction was the concept of nailed construction whereby nails were hammered through the layers of leather onto a metal last creating a solid and hardwearing shoe.

Some terminology

Soccus

One of the most basic forms of Roman shoe. Made from one piece of leather which is sewn up along the heel and toe.

Cabatina

Another fairly simple shoe made from one piece of leather. This would have been worn mainly as a house shoe and by off duty soldiers.

Caliga

A more tough and sophisticated shoe for marching. These would have had several layers of leather on the sole held together with hob nails to make them more hard wearing.

Calceus

A much smarter type of footwear worn by centurions (officers). These went higher up the leg, were made in much finer detail and were often dyed bright colours.

The Last

A piece of metal or wood, roughly foot shaped, used for shaping the shoe in construction.

Tanning

The process of turning skin into leather by steeping it in an appropriate infusion.

Take it further

The Roman Empire, C Wells (Fontana History of the Ancient World)

The Roman World 44BC-AD180, M Goodman (Routledge History of the Ancient World)

Roman Civilization: Selected Readings Volume II The Empire, N Lewis, M Reinhold (Columbia University Press)

Find out more about studying history with the Open University.

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Bringing out the bad guy with Star Trek Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: photos.com article icon

History & The Arts 

Bringing out the bad guy with Star Trek

How does "soft" science fiction like Star Trek offer new ways to explore old questions about who we are and what made us that way?

Article
Latin graffiti at Pompeii Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license video icon

History & The Arts 

Latin graffiti at Pompeii

The writing's on the wall—read the graffiti left by residents of the ancient town of Pompeii, preserved by a volcanic eruption

Video
15 mins
Introducing the Classical world Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 2 icon

History & The Arts 

Introducing the Classical world

How do we learn about the world of the ancient Romans and Greeks? This free course, Introducing the Classical world, will provide you with an insight into the Classical world by introducing you to the various sources of information used by scholars to draw together an image of this fascinating period of history.

Free course
20 hrs
Ancient Olympics screencast video icon

History & The Arts 

Ancient Olympics screencast

The Open University has released a free-to-use learning resource exploring the links between the ancient and modern Olympic Games. Find out more with this screencast

Video
5 mins
Hadrian, Rome and the Roman Empire Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Eryk Rogozinski | Dreamstime.com article icon

History & The Arts 

Hadrian, Rome and the Roman Empire

Reveal the stories of Hadrian's Wall and take a look at the legacy the Ancient Romans have left behind. 

Article
Hestia Project map and partners’ resources Creative commons image Icon Hestia Project under Creative-Commons license activity icon

History & The Arts 

Hestia Project map and partners’ resources

Follow the guidance on how to make the most of the Hestia Project map and explore the links to find out more about Hestia Project partners, to take your research further.

Activity
Lysistrata by Aristophanes Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license video icon

History & The Arts 

Lysistrata by Aristophanes

Enjoy Aristophanes' comic account of one woman's extraordinary method of bringing The Peloponnesian War to an end. 

Video
Classical studies: it's more than the words Creative commons image Icon Wikimedia Commons under Creative-Commons license activity icon

History & The Arts 

Classical studies: it's more than the words

When thinking about ancient literature and historiography, we need to consider more than just the words written, but the aims of the author, role of the translator, political and cultural issues of the time of writing as well as the period in history.

Activity
'As rich as Croesus' Creative commons image Icon Wikimedia Commons under Creative-Commons license activity icon

History & The Arts 

'As rich as Croesus'

Croesus' legendary wealth leads to the expression 'rich as Croesus’ and according to Herodotus, Croesus was the first monarch to mint gold and silver coins. Explore the evidence for this from the Hestia texts and other sources.

Activity