Friday, July 7, 2017

The sandal: In the beginning

The beginning of footwear as we know it today, starts with civilization and sendentation. Many anthropologists believe the cradle of civilization lay in the Ancient Near East in a region roughly corresponding to modern Middle East, i.e. Iraq and northeastern Syria. The convergence of two major rivers i.e. the Tigris and Euphrates produced rich fertile soil with copious supply of water for irrigation. As a result many non-nomadic agrarian societies formed and the subsequent interaction between them laid the beginning of civilisation. The ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia formed in the 4th millennium BCE and ended during 2nd century BCE. The time period corresponded to the Bronze Age (3300-1200 BCE) and the Iron Age (1300–600 BCE) in that region.

Sumer (or Sumeria) was one of the first major civilisations and arose in the 4th millennium BCE. It lasted for about a thousand years during which time the Akkadians migrated into Mesopotamia. By the beginning of the Akkadian Empire in the 23 century BCE most of the customs and clothing of Sumer were subsumed into the Akkadian civilisation. Other kingdoms followed including: Babylonia (Elam, Assyria and Suria) (1700 – 1250 BCE); Assyria (20th century – 627 BCE); Medes ( 640 –549 BCE) and Persia (The Achaemenid Empire 550–330 BCE).

In the 18th BCE the Hittites established a kingdom which lasted until 1180 BCE before it disintegrated into several independent "Neo-Hittite" city-states. The Phoenician civilization (1200 – 539 BCE) was a maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean. Throughout the ancient Mesopotainan civilisations a Sumero-Akkadian culture prevailed. As civilisations came and went each expanded their parameters through trade. Eventually links with other early civilisations including Ancient Egypt (3200 BCE – 343 BCE), India (2800 BCE - 1500 BCE) and China were forged causing major cultural cross-fertilisation.

The Sumerian civilisation were noted for its workmanship and people clad themself in skins and hides. Sumerians were thought to generally go barefoot but excavations have unearthed a royal shoe with a turned up toe (circa 3000 BCE).


Up turned toe


Later footwear was worn at formal ceremonies by high dignitaries and Sumerian shoe styles become widespread. Up-turned shoes were made from dyed leather and had a heel or elevated soles. Early shoes included sandals with toe loops and heel protection. Sometimes straps came over the instep and footwear of the affluent was invariably bejellewed.


Early Sandal




Bejewelled Sandal

The Babylonians were skilled tanners and worked with kid and goat skins. They frequently dyed the leathers brilliant colours and the process became known as ‘morocco.’ These skills were later taken to Spain with the Moors and centred in Cordova. By the Middle Ages these became known as "Babylonian Shoes."

The Phoenicians in Syria were the first people to dye leather and their distinctive red dyes were made from crushed beetles. Later the Babylonians allocated colours to rank with gold and bejewelled sandals the exclusive reserve of the king and his court, pastel colours were for dignitaries and the middle class wore red or yellow only. The Babylonians also perfumed leather and included embroidery work on expensive shoes. Babylonian kings wore slippers made from fine leather with bands of white, gold, and red. The Sumerian word ‘mulu’ is the origin of word mule and Babylonian women wore mules and slippers or bilgha (babouche) made in white leather and fastened with jewels. Sandals were commonly worn by men and women and many Babylonians wore turned up shoes with pom poms. Servants in Babylonia went barefoot.



Assyrians wore sandals, low shoes and boots. The Assyrian kings wore thick soled leather sandals with rounded toes and an ornamented heel piece decorated with pearls and gems. The heel piece sloped towards the arch of the foot from the back of the ankle. Thongs were wrapped around the big toe with two on either side which finished over the instep. Alternatively the regent wore sandals with an extra thong round the big toe and decorated with crescents, rosettes, and other designs. Royal shoes were embroidered with gold thread and the regent’s slippers were crafted of fine leather in bands of white and gold and red. Assyrian queens wore embroidered slippers similar to 19th century pantoffles. Assyrian shoes were made from fabric or soft leather and up until 1370 BCE shoes were pointed but after this, sandals with upturned toes became popular. Women wore flat leather slippers. Highly colourful footwear often striped or variegated were popular. Red and yellow usually indicated high ranking officials. Delicate colours such as pale blue were especially popular among the affluent. Gentlewomen's slippers were made in white leather and fastened with jewels. Servants went barefooted. Huntsmen wore knee high boots.



Earliest Assyrian sculptures show foot soldiers wearing simple flat sandals with protection for the heel. The sandals had a cross-lacing of thongs around the big toe with others over the instep. Sandals were made either as a thin sole with heel cap made from red or different coloured leather strips sewn together. A second sandal had a thickened heel area tapering towards the toes. The sole was attached with covering to the heel and sides of the foot, leaving the toes and instep exposed. Later Assyrian warriors wore buskins laced from top to instep and decorated according to rank. In about 2000 BC the Assyrians started to wear boots prior to which the rank and file had fought barefooted. The Assyrian boot was broad and rounded; the front was cut away with a loose leather flap covering the instep and leg. The lacing was loose so the foot was not constricted. Assyrian cavalry of the 8th & 7th centuries BCE wore laced boots or greaves that reached almost to the knees. Bowmen had leather boots with tongues running from to the lower part of the calf to the top of the boot for protection. These fastened in the front with thongs. Some soldiers preferred bronze or brass greaves (to protect the shin) and wore them with sandals.



Medes and Persians shoes and boots were also made from soft leather. Boots were worn at various heights and shoes (‘perisque’) enveloped the foot and fastened in the front with buttons or a buckle. Greek historians, Herodotus (c. 484 BC – c. 425 BC). and Strabo (63/64 BC – ca. AD 24) ) described the dress of the Medes, including a high shoe, or low boot, that opened in front and were fastened with buttons. The Median sovereign wore a high, long shoe which buttoned at the front, had a toe ring attachment and were coloured saffron or deep yellow. Persians shoes tied below the ankle bones or had three button fastenings over the insteps. White leather shoes with matching thong leather were tied at the front. Persians fastened low open-toed shoes with triple laces. Pointed boots were not introduced until the time of the Hittites (2000-1200 BCE) when the Persians found them useful in close fighting. By the 3rd century BCE purple boots with fine embroidered motifs outlined in gold were popular. Elevated shoes with cork heels were also worn by the Persians. The ancients protected delicate footwear with wooden over sandals.