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Caligae-Boots-art - 4/4/10


"Caligae – Roman Army Boots" by Viscount Sir Corin Anderson (KSCA, OP).


NOTE: See also the files: boots-msg, 2Shod-a-Shire-art, p-shoes-msg, shoes-msg, shoemaking-msg, leather-msg, lea-tanning-msg, leather-dyeing-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



This article was first published in issue number 32 of "Cockatrice", the A&S newsletter of the Kingdom of Lochac.


Caligae – Roman Army Boots

by Viscount Sir Corin Anderson (KSCA, OP)


A bit of History


Around 2,000 years ago the Romans realised how important good roads were for their military forces. At the peak of the Roman Empire, their network of roads stretched over some 85,000 kilometres. It sprawled from Britain to North Africa, and from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean.


Just as important for Roman military success was the development of hardwearing footwear that would allow their soldiers to march across those thousands of kilometres in some degree of comfort.


The footwear worn by Roman soldiers was a heavy duty, hobnailed sandal called the Caliga (plural Caligae). The Caliga was so much identified with the military that the Latin term used to describe them, 'caligatus miles', could also be translated as 'common soldier'. Putting this in a modern context you might consider that while we call common soldiers 'grunts', the Romans called their common soldiers 'boots'.


Although the Caliga normally showed some of the wearer's foot, the uppers did not consist of individual straps but of a single piece of leather with slits deliberately cut out of it for ventilation; an important consideration in the hot Mediterranean climate.


In colder climates, such as on Hadrian's Wall, it seems likely that the slits would have been kept to a minimum and the Caliga would have looked more like a boot than a sandal. There is strong evidence that Romans soldiers on Hadrian's Wall wore woollen under shoes with their Caligae, committing that grave style offence of wearing socks with sandals.


Another feature of the Caliga was the extra layers of leather attached to the uppers with hobnails to create a thick, hardwearing sole. The multiple layers of leather made a sole that was half an inch thick, good for protecting the foot when walking on rough ground. The heads of the iron hobnails would have improved traction and also provided a hard surface, further reducing wear.


While Roman Caligae could be, and was, worn by civilians it would have seemed very much like civilians wearing military style clothing in the modern world. Wearing surplus army boots today is not considered especially strange but it is not entirely commonplace either.


We know of Caligae from Roman literature, art and also from a few surviving examples.


The Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (12 – 24 AD) is more commonly known as Caligula (little boots). He was given the nickname as a young boy by the soldiers of his father's army in response to his father's habit of dressing him in military costumes when on campaign. The Emperor Diocletian (245 – 312 AD) mentions Caligae in his edicts on maximum prices for manufactured goods.


Trajan's column in Rome, finished in 113 AD, was built to commemorate Trajan's victory in his campaign against the Dacians.


The column is carved in a bas-relief spiral that depicts Trajan's campaign. The high level of detail in the carving provides a wealth of information about the organisation and equipment of the Roman army at that time.


Trajan's Column


The detail extends to the level of the shoes worn by the soldiers. In the close up below the straps on the soldiers Caliga are clearly visible.


Detail from Trajan's


Although leather and iron articles from 2,000 years ago are rare, there are a number of examples of Caliga that have survived reasonably intact.


The Caliga below is from the first century and now resides in the French National Museum of Antiquities in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.


Surviving Caliga - Saint-Germain


The next example is also from the first century and is held in the Munich Archaeological Museum. Note the sole piece where the remains of the hobnails are still visible.


Surviving Caliga – Munich


Making Caligae – The Pattern


The first step in making your own Caligae is to draft the pattern. For this I've found lightweight card from a newsagent to be useful.


Start by tracing closely around your foot and marking on either side where the instep meets the ankle. Rule a line across the instep marks.


When tracing your foot you will have a bump for each toe. Smooth this line into a regular curve.


Rule a line from the centre of the instep to the centre of the toe (A and B on the diagram). Divide this length evenly by the number of straps you're planning on having, 4 to 6 is a good number.


Rule a line across each of the divisions starting from either end (toe and instep) and working towards the middle. The lines at the toe and instep are not parallel so the angles of the lines as they travel inward need to be adjusted to make the change of angle between adjacent lines gradual and even.


Mark the centre of each section of the centre line AB and the corresponding centres of the adjacent sections of the inner and outer edge of the sole (dark tick marks on the diagram). Rule lines from the centre marks through the corresponding edge marks.


Measure the distance across the instep and toes with a tape measure. Divide these measurements by two to get the length of the straps required at the instep and toe ends.


Mark these lengths on the lines extending from the sole at the toe and instep. The lengths of the lines in between should vary evenly between the length of the toe and instep straps. For example, if the instep strap is 9 cm and the toe strap is 7 cm and you have five straps in total, their lengths should be 9, 8.5, 8, 7.5 and 7 cm.


In practice, it is a good idea to add a couple of centimetres to the length of each strap and adjust them for fit after you have cut the pattern out and had a chance to try it on.


The width of each strap at the ends can be any where from the width of the divisions on the centre line AB to about a quarter of that, depending on how open you want the Caligae to look.


Draw lines of the chosen length perpendicular to the lines extending from the sole at the length marks made in the previous step. Then join the ends of the short perpendicular lines to the corresponding lines ruled across the sole to mark out the straps.

Drafting the pattern – Toe Straps


Next, draw the part of the Caligae that wraps around the ankle.


Rather than describe the process in detail, I'll just point out a few key measurements. It's enough to end up with something that looks roughly like the pattern below.


The length of CE and DF are each half the length of the distance around the heel CD. The length FG is the distance the Caliga goes up the ankle. The distance GH is half the distance around the ankle.

Drafting the pattern – The Ankle


Once you've reached that stage it's time to mark the places where the straps will be cut out. Here is where you can exercise a degree of creativity.


Surviving examples and artwork show there was no 'correct' way to do this so you can organise the cutouts however, and with as much detail, as you like.


In the diagram below I've quickly, and roughly, sketched an example of how the cutouts might be organised. In practice you would do well to take a little more care and time to be precise with the evenness of the straps.


Drafting the pattern – Cut outs


Making Caligae – Cutting it out


Before you cut out the pattern it is a good idea to trace another copy of the sole, since you will need to cut out a number of these shapes as well.


Cut out the pattern with a hobby knife and transfer it to your leather by carefully tracing round it with a pen or pencil. Then flip the pattern over and trace another copy on to the leather, giving you a left and right side.


Carefully cut out the leather pieces with a hobby knife. I found it easier to cut each line in several lighter passes than attempt to do it all in one go. It's also a good idea to punch small holes in the inside corners of the cutouts before cutting along the lines.


You will also need to cut out two or three of the sole pieces for each Caliga, plus and extra one for each Caliga for the insole.


Be sure to flip the pattern piece over when tracing on to the leather for the opposite foot i.e. if you traced your left foot to make the pattern you will need to flip the pattern over when marking out the pieces for the right foot.


Making Caligae – Assembly


Assembling the Caligae is simply a matter of riveting two or three of the leather sole pieces to the bottom of each set of straps and lacing it up the back.


The sole pieces were traditionally attached to the strap sections with hobnails. Hobnails are iron nails with large domed heads that were hammered through the soles on the face of an anvil. When the nails hit the anvil's face they would bend over at right angles and hold the leather pieces together. A leather inner sole would stop the bent over ends of the hobnails from damaging the soldier's feet.


Not being able to find hobnails I settled on using two part rivets for my first pair of Caligae. While they've held up moderately well, some of the rivet heads are now starting to wear away.


To close up the back I simply punched a row of holes down each edge and laced them up with shoelaces (leather thongs or linen thread would be more authentic).


The Caligae are held on to your feet by a cord cross-laced between the ends of the slots cut in the straps.


Flat Caliga – underside and inside


Caligae being worn


Caligae for SCA Combat


After making my first pair of Caligae I decided I wanted a pair for SCA Combat.


Since I didn't think the Marshal's would be happy for me to take to the field in what looked like open toed sandals, I came up with a modified design that avoided the cut outs and had an extra leather upper and toe piece with a steel toe cap riveted inside.


This time I used tinner's rivets and washers to hold the sole pieces together. The effect looks a lot more like what I imagine hobnails to look like.


The result is also a lot harder wearing than the two part rivets. I've worn these Caligae through a good number of wars and Festivals and they're showing very little sign of wear.


One word of warning about using dome headed rivets for the soles; they are extremely slippery on polished wooden floors. It's not too much of a stretch to say that Caligae on polished wood is a bit like ice-skating and I've had a few nasty falls at various feasts while wearing them.


Their traction is great on grass or dirt but I'd recommend not wearing them to feasts (or perhaps making a pair with a rubber sole).


I dyed my Caligae with black leather dye but you could use oil, like neat's-foot oil, for a more authentic look.


Fighting Caliga – underside and inside


Insole, upper and steel toe of fighting Caliga


Fighting Caliga and open Caliga from the front



Some Web Resources

A couple of Re-enactor websites with hints and pattern ideas for making Caligae:




Trajan's Column Web Site:



Copyright 2006 by Gerard Tops. <gerardtops at yahoo.com.au>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


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Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
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Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org