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September 17, 2019 2 min read

The most ancient form of known footwear were discovered in Fort Rock Cave in Oregon, constructed from sagebrush bark and have been radiocarbon dated to over 10,000 years ago. They were sandals. Sandals are still in common usage as a comfortable form of footwear in warmer climates today. How common were sandals among the ancients, how were they constructed and when did they first become factory produced?

Despite being thousands of miles apart from Oregon in a totally separate part of the world, the word sandal is of Greek origin. The Greeks had various kinds of sandals. Baxeae were a foot sandal woven from willow leaves, twigs or fibres. This was worn in the ancient theatres by both comic acts and philosophers. Cothurnus, was a knee or calf length boot sandal constructed from leather or cloth, sturdier than the baxeae, with closed laces, but open toes. Cothurnus was worn by tragic actors, horsemen, hunters and by those in rank and authority. The sole was made thicker by adding slices of cork, according to the stature and position of the wearer. Sandals were the most common type of footwear worn by Greek women, who spent most of their time at home. Many featured a number of straps which were securely fastened to the foot. The tops were made of dyed leather, with soles made of cattle skin in several layers. Roman footwear was similar to the Greek, but they carved their boots and sandals with elaborate designs.

Ancient Egyptians also wore sandals constructed from palm leaves and papyrus, and can be seen on the feet of some ancient statues and stone reliefs. Pharaohs had sandal-bearers, who are identified on stone reliefs by a rosette and a club. These were servants of the king, possibly high ranking officials, accompanying the Pharaoh on important occasions. The sandal-bearer would also take on the role of foot washer, a common occupation in ancient times. Herodotus reported that papyrus sandals were a part of the required dress of Egyptian priests. 

In the Levant (a large area of the Eastern Mediterranean, mainly in Western Asia, the historical territory of ancient Syria) sandals were constructed from unprocessed leather and dry grass, fastened by strings or ropes made of simple cheap materials. However, sometimes golden or silver beads and even precious gemstones were added. Despite the prevalence of sandals in the ancient world, sandals were not introduced in England until 1886, when Harold Cox sent Edward Carpenter a pair from Cashmere, India. Edward Carpenter went on to make sandals for his friends. His trade grew and by 1889 they started to be manufactured in Millthorpe and then Letchworth.  


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