Caligae are heavy-soled hob-nailed military boots worn by Roman legion
Roman legion
A Roman legion normally indicates the basic ancient Roman army unit recruited specifically from Roman citizens. The organization of legions varied greatly over time but they were typically composed of perhaps 5,000 soldiers, divided into maniples and later into "cohorts"...

ary soldiers and auxiliaries throughout the Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

 and Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

. Worn by all ranks up to and including centurions
Centurion (Roman army)
A centurion , also hekatontarch in Greek sources, or, in Byzantine times, kentarch was a professional officer of the Roman army after the Marian reforms of 107 BC...

, no other shoes in history stand as much symbol for the expansion of an empire than the famed caligae. From Rome onwards and over many centuries these boots conquered the larger part of the known world.

To modern eyes the caligae resemble sandals but they were actually marching boots. Sandals proper were not worn outside by the Romans, rather they were regarded as indoor footwear, sometimes even carried by slaves to be changed into for such things as banquets.

The open design of caligae allowed for the free passage of air to the feet and, unlike modern military boots, was specifically designed so as to reduce the likelihood of blisters forming during forced marches, as well as other disabling foot conditions like tinea
Tinea is a general term used to describe skin mycoses. The term ringworm is even less precise, but is usually considered a synonym.It is sometimes equated with dermatophytosis, and it is true that most conditions identified as "tinea" are members of the imperfect fungi that make up the dermatophytes...

 or trench foot
Trench foot
Trench foot is a medical condition caused by prolonged exposure of the feet to damp, unsanitary, and cold conditions. It is one of many immersion foot syndromes...

. Socks were not normally worn with caligae, although in colder climates such as Britain, woollen socks were used.

Caligae were constructed from three leather
Leather is a durable and flexible material created via the tanning of putrescible animal rawhide and skin, primarily cattlehide. It can be produced through different manufacturing processes, ranging from cottage industry to heavy industry.-Forms:...

 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
Iron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...

Hobnail (footwear)
In footwear, a hobnail is a short nail with a thick head used to increase the durability of boot soles.Hobnailed boots are boots with hobnails , usually installed in a regular pattern, over the sole...

s were hammered into the soles, to provide the caligae with:
  • reinforcement
  • traction
  • armament (enabling soldiers to inflict damage by stomping)

Shoes outside the military

Various other types of leather footwear were worn with in the Roman empire. The carlatina was a sandal made from one piece of leather with a soft sole and openwork upper fastened by a lace. A soccus was a sole without hobnails and a separate leather upper. A calceus was hobnailed secured by laces. A solea was a simple sandal with a thong between the toes and a hobnailed sole. Women wore sandals similar to those of men, but they were of softer, finer leather. Winter shoes were usually cork-soled. Sometimes the soles were thickened to provide the imitation of height.

See also

  • Caligula
    Caligula , also known as Gaius, was Roman Emperor from 37 AD to 41 AD. Caligula was a member of the house of rulers conventionally known as the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Caligula's father Germanicus, the nephew and adopted son of Emperor Tiberius, was a very successful general and one of Rome's most...

     (The nickname of the Emperor Gaius means 'little (soldier's) boot'. His father Germanicus
    Germanicus Julius Caesar , commonly known as Germanicus, was a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and a prominent general of the early Roman Empire. He was born in Rome, Italia, and was named either Nero Claudius Drusus after his father or Tiberius Claudius Nero after his uncle...

    , a well esteemed military officer, wore them a lot, and influenced his son to wear them. When Caligula wore them as emperor, he covered them with precious jewels.
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