Considering how prized modern Italian leather goods are, it is perhaps not too surprising that there was a good deal of variety in the types of ancient Roman sandals and shoes, that the shoe-maker (sutor) was a valued craftsman, and that the Romans contributed the entire-foot-encasing shoe to the Mediterranean world.
Sandals vs Shoes
The Latin word for generic sandals is sandalia or soleae; for shoes and shoe-boots, calcei -- from the word for heel (calx) -- which Sebesta and Bonfante say were distinctly for wearing with the toga and so forbidden to slaves. In addition, there were slippers (socci) and theatrical footwear, like the cothurnus.
The generic calceus was made of soft leather, completely covered the foot and was fastened in front with thongs. Some early shoes had pointed upward curving toes (calcei repandi), and were both laced and strapped into place. Later shoes had rounded toes.
Wet weather called for a boot called the pero, which was made of rawhide. Calcamen was the name of a shoe that reached midcalf.
Upper Class Shoes
The black leather senator's shoe or calceus senatorius had 4 straps (corrigiae). A senator had a crescent shape on the top of his shoes. Except for color and price, the senator's shoe was similar to the patrician's costlier red high-soled calceus mulleus fastened with hooks and straps around the ankle.
Soldier's Shoes and Boots
There was an impressive soldier's almost-knee-high dress boot with feline head, known as embromides, which may never have been made, but appears in art. Soldiers had shoes called campagi militares and also the well-ventilated marching boot, caliga (with the diminutive caligula used as a nickname for the 3rd Roman emperor), whose sole was extra thick and studded with hobnails.
Footwear for Women
Caligae muliebres were unstudded boots for women. Another diminutive was the calceoli, which was a little shoe or half boot for women.
There were also house sandals or soleae to wear when dressed in just the tunica and stola, but inappropriate for wear with the toga or palla. The Roman sandals consisted of a leather sole attached to the foot with interlacing thongs. The sandals were removed before reclining for a feast. At the conclusion of the feast, the diners requested their sandals.
More on Roman Clothing
- 5 Facts About Greek and Roman Clothing
- Articles on the Roman Toga and Other Aspects of Roman Clothing