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Абрамков А.О., Евсеенков А.С., Гончарова О.А.

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Calcei-closed Roman or Greek shoes made of tanned leather. They were a sole to which the upper part was sewn, completely covering the foot. Socks were often worn under the calces for both comfort and warmth, especially in the northern provinces. Sometimes the upper part of the calc had decorative cutouts. Also, the foot of the shoe was often lined with nails for stability while walking in non-urban areas.

The ancestors of calca first appeared on the Italian peninsula among the Etruscans - it was a leather shoe with an insular nose. There is an opinion that this type of shoes could get because of the Middle Eastern influence. An example of calca can be found on a sarcophagus from Cerveteri, late 6th century BC.

Fragment of a sarcophagus with Etruscan shoes, VI-th century BC, Villa Giulia, Rome

Over time, the pointed spout went out of fashion, but the calciae themselves continued to be used for centuries. This type of footwear was used by the broad masses of the inhabitants of antiquity, in particular ancient Rome: senators, senior officers, military men, emperors, women, children, etc. Moreover, it should be noted that the listed persons could have other types of shoes besides calzei- sandals and caligas.

Calciae in the military

The calciae of legionnaires and auxiliaries differ from those of senators and legates in their simplicity and practicality. Since one of the main features of the legion was the ability to overcome long marches on foot, shoes played a vital role in this issue. Poor footwear could lead to both reduced mobility during combat and injuries even before the battle began. So calcei was the most demanding part in terms of personal fitting of equipment. Officers, for example centurions, often depicted shoes of the calceus type, and not kaliq. Also, according to the places of discovery, it should be noted that Calcae were located throughout the territory of the Roman state. As a rule, closed shoes were more common in the north.

An example of images of calcae can be seen on the column of Trajan and the column of Marcus Aurelius.

Calceae can be seen on the sagitarium (left) and auxilarium (right) of Trajan's Column, 2nd century AD, Rome.
In this image, calcei can be seen in a legionnaire whose image is stamped above the knees, as well as in a legionnaire facing the viewer. Trajan's Column, 2nd century AD, Rome.
Column of Marcus Aurelius, II-th century AD, Rome.

Calcae differed not only in the length of lacing holes, their appearance, decorative ornaments or color, but also in their height. There are images that are close to modern "sneakers", supported by archaeological sources. An example is a man's calcea from the Roman fort at Bar Hills, dating from 142-180 AD. The sole size was 28 cm.

Auxiliaries-archer from Trajan's column. Early 2nd century AD
Male right calcea. Roman fort at Bar Hill. Sole size 28 cm 142-180 AD

A fairly important element of military calcae is the nail padding of the sole for more comfortable walking and greater stability. But nevertheless, it is impossible to say for sure whether this is a mandatory element of military footwear or its distinctive element. It is quite possible that the padding was also used for civilian shoes. It should also be noted that the padding could be carried out in various patterns, some of which can be found in the article about kaligi.

Calciae in noble persons

The widespread use of calcae does not mean that they were all the same. Calzees were distinguished by the quality and color of the leather they were made from, as well as the pattern, patterns and lacing. It has been suggested that Caesar wore bright red calceas in his triumphal procession (Cassius, Roman History 43.432). Perhaps he was emphasizing color as a way to distinguish social classes. For example, the black calzees of horsemen seem to be similar in position to the shoes of senators and patricians, but it was somewhat cheaper to paint the shoes black.

The calceias of the patricians and senators were distinguished from each other by the quality of their leather and the skill of their workmanship. By the time of Diocletian's edict, the calcae of the patricians were sold for 150 denarii, while the cost of the calcae of the senators was 100 denarii. There is no literary or artistic evidence to indicate exactly how the boots of horsemen and senators differed, but the edict (9.7—9) lists horseman's calzees at a significantly lower price, 70 denarii per pair. The calcae on the statue of the orator Aulus Metellus strongly resemble the later shoes of senators and patricians.

Statue of Aulus Metellus, circa 100 BC, National Archaeological Museum, Florence

From the time of the late republic to the middle of the Empire, the appearance of calcareous stones practically did not change, but was only supplemented with small minor variations. Calcei were worn through a cut on the upper part, which allowed the boot to be opened wide for putting it on. Four leather belts crisscrossed around the foot and ankle, and were tied in two knots in front of the ankle. Such calcae can be seen on the Altar of Peace.

Detail from the Altar of Peace, 1st century AD, Rome

On the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, you can see calcei with a double knot. Looking at them, we can assume that the calcei had a double sole, between the layers of which two long leather strips were threaded around the leg. You can also notice that the toes were covered with a soft layer of skin with calcium.

Fragment of the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, 2nd century AD, Rome

The Norwegian Institute of Rome has a statue of the Empress in calcae, dated to the third or fourth century AD. Round relief ornaments around the lacing holes are interpreted by researchers as pearls. The rich decoration of the shoes and cloak indicates that only the Empress could dress like this.

Fragment of the Empress statue, 3rd-4th centuries AD, Norway
Statue of a woman and her daughter, 50-40 BC, Capitoline Museum, Italy

Calciae in women

Calci in women could not have significant differences from men's or children's shoes. This is well demonstrated by the findings from Bar Hills, where there are not only male, but also presumably female and children's calceae. All 3 samples of shoes have a low height and are richly decorated with cut-out patterns. In the images, women's legs were often covered with clothing, which often makes it difficult to recognize them in pictorial sources.

Kalceii, 2nd century AD, Bar Hill Fort
Women's calcium. 142-180 AD
Children's calcium. 142-180 AD

There is an opinion that the noble pious women of Ancient Rome were decently prescribed to wear closed shoes. Open-type shoes could indicate excessive looseness of a woman. However, there are Roman images of noble women in open shoes, in particular sandals. Quite a large part of Roman images were made under Greek influences, sometimes completely copying the Greek statue, changing only the head, and in Greece open shoes were much more common. There are enough images of women of different status in both open and closed shoes, so it is impossible to say unequivocally that closed shoes were of a class nature.

Fresco of the goddess of Pompeii in closed shoes, 1st century AD
Fresco of a woman in closed shoes from Pompeii. Forum Baths (VII, 5, built), Stucco Relief, Campania. 1st century AD
Mural of women with open shoes (sandals). Dressing a priestess or bride, Palaestra Forum Baths at Herculaneum, 79 AD


Calceae are best suited for reconstructing images of Roman citizens and Roman officers: senators, priests, centurions. In the case of legates and emperors, calceias are also best suited, but they take on a less practical, but at the same time more pompous appearance. Women could also wear calcae, and in the reconstruction of female images, they are also applicable accordingly. The main difficulty in reconstruction can be the correct choice of sources for the image, since they are similar in many structural elements. To determine whether military shoes are worn or not, you can look at the location of the find (if it is a Roman fort, then it is almost certainly the shoes of an auxiliary/legionnaire). Anatomical features can also help in determining whether shoes belong (if the shoes are small, then most likely they are children's shoes), as well as the type of lacing and the presence of nails on the sole. Below are examples of reconstructions of calcae dating back to the 1st-2nd centuries AD.

Calcey Reconstruction
Calcey Reconstruction
Calcey Reconstruction

Related topics

Kaligi, Sandals, Legion, Legionnaire, Augur, Tunic, Toga, Socks


Goldman, N., in Sebesta, Judith Lynn, and Bonfante, Larissa, editors, The World of Roman Costume: Wisconsin Studies in Classics, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1994

Military footwear

Calceii, 1st century AD, Mainz
Calcae from the Roman fort Trimontium (Newstead-Scotland), dated between 90 and 110 AD.
Calcei Vindonissa, I-II centuries AD, Vindonissa
Calceii, 2nd century AD, Vindolanda
Calceii, 2nd century AD, Vindolanda
Calceae found near Hadrian's Wall, 2nd century AD, Great Britain
Calceae found near Hadrian's Wall, 2nd century AD, Great Britain
Reconstruction of Calcae from Newstead, 2nd century AD
Calceii on the feet of senior officers, Trajan's column, 2nd century AD
Male right calcea. Roman fort at Bar Hill. Sole size 28 cm 142-180 AD
Calceii, 2nd century AD, Vindolanda
Calceii, 2nd century AD, Vindolanda
Calcea lining, 2nd century AD, Vindolanda
Calcae from the Roman fort Trimontium (Newstead-Scotland), dated between 90 and 110 AD.
Calcareous patterns
Calceii, 2nd century AD, National Museum of Scotland

Other footwear

Calcei on the statue of the unknown Emperor, 2nd century AD, Antalya
Calceii, 3rd century AD, National Archaeological Museum of Aquileia
Female calceae, 1st century AD, Saalburg
"Endymion." Marble. From the Greek original of the end of the IV century BC Inv. MC 36. Rome, Capitoline Museums, New Palace, Atrium. 1st century AD
Children's calcium. Vindoland Museum. 2nd century AD
Calcae of Trajan, 2nd century AD, Antalya
Calcei of Caracalla, 2nd century AD, Antalya
Baby Calcaea, 1st century AD, Syria
Calceii, 4th century AD, Denmark
Calcea bottle, 1st century AD, British Museum
Calceae from Egypt, 1st century BC-3rd century AD, Pitt Rivers Museum
Statue detail Statue of Holconius Rufus, 1st century BC-1st century AD, Archaeological Museum of Naples
Calcea bottle, 1st century AD, British Museum