Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Boots: From Pre-History to Antiquity

According to Broby-Johansen (1986) the oldest boots in the world come from a clay impression originating in ancient Syria and cave paintings in Spain depicting a man in boots of skin and a woman in fur boots. These were dated between to 12,000 and 15,000 BCE.

More recently Persian jars in the shape of boots were dated to around 3000 BCE. A Rhyton were more usually used as a drinking vessel but this possibly for human remains i.e funerary jars. Boots were also found in the tomb of Khnumhotep (2140-1785 BCE) in Egypt. All this would suggest boots were a style of ancient footwear found in and around the Mediterranean.

The ancient Mesopotamians wore boots made from kid leather with laced closures and according to Bigelow (1970) men and women of Crete (between 3000-1400 BCE) wore calf high boots tied to their legs with thongs. The boot had a strip of leather against the anterior aspect of the leg and was secured below the knee with a band of leather and the top of the foot was covered.

Later the Cretans wore a puttee (bandages) of coloured leather wrapped around the foot and leg with a thick sole. Hunting leggings were worn just below the knee.

In ancient Greece, soldiers wore high boots and they fitted to the leg and foot snugly and in some cases with the toes left exposed. The boots were laced up the front of the leg ending at the top of the calf. In Greek mythology the Amazons (a nation of all female warriors) also wore boots like men whilst most women in Greece went barefoot.

Mycenaean men (1600 – 1100 BCE) wore decorated calf length boots of pliable leather. By 5 BCE young Greek men wore white boots made of stretched material pulled up to the top of the calf and decorated with turned over tops in blue and green. The toe section was often highly decorated.

The Etruscans (1200- 550 BCE) were skilful tanners and made boots from animal skins and hides. A characteristic of their high and low boots was the curved toe. Historians believe this was caused by the way the boots were laced as the excess upper was towards the ankle. The boots were sturdy and covered the foot and lower leg. The section that covered the foot and the back of the leg was laced together with leather thongs.

Etruscan priests wore boots whilst warriors went barefoot. To protect their shins in battle they had leather or metal greaves. Soldiers wore fur lined rawhide boots with slashed foreparts and some were coloured and had embroidered cuffs. Leg bandings, in bound puttee fashion, were also worn and rose above the ankles.

Bigelow MS 1970 Fashion in history apparel in the western world Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Co
Broby-Johansen R 1968 Body and clothes: an illustrated history of costume London: Faber and Faber

Reviewed 20/02/2016