Caligae are heavy-soled hob-nailed military boots known for being issued to Roman legionary soldiers and auxiliaries. Worn by all ranks up to and including centurions, no other shoes in history are as symbolic of the expansion of an empire as the caligae.
Caligae can resemble modern sandals but were actually marching boots. Sandals proper were not worn outside by the Romans, but were regarded as indoor footwear, sometimes even carried by slaves to be changed into for such things as banquets.
These are modern replicas made for the Trimontium Trust and currently on display in the Trimontium Museum, Melrose in the Scottish Borders.
Calligae were specifically designed to reduce the likelihood of blisters forming during forced marches, as well as other foot conditions like trench foot. Socks were not normally worn with caligae, although in colder climates such as Britain, woolen socks were used.
Caligae were constructed from three leather layers of which the top formed the outer shell. They were laced up the center of the foot and onto the top of the ankle. Additionally, iron hobnails were hammered into the soles, to provide the caligae with reinforcement and traction.
By the late 1st century the army began to transition into an enclosed boot called Calcei. They offered more protection and warmth than the caligae. They quickly became a staple in both Roman military and civilian dress. Calcei were so much better in the wet and colder British climate. These calcei were generally considered to be a centre seamed or laced shoes with the separate inner and outer soles.
The following image is from Curle’s volume, ‘A ROMAN FRONTIER POST AND ITS PEOPLE’, available online here:
It shows the range of leather footwear uncovered at the Newstead site of Trimontium.
The film clip shows one of the delicate shoes after conservation work and now on display at the National Museum Scotland in Edinburgh.
For more Roman shoes on Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/862650503618142057/