Back as early as the first century, children and infants living in Roman military bases around Europe wore shoes that showed their social status. These itsy-bitsy shoes, some small enough for infants, not only revealed that their families were part of Roman military life, but that children were dressed to match their parents' place in the social hierarchy.
Study researcher Elizabeth Greene of the University of Western Ontario says, "The role of dress in expressing status was prominent even for children of the very youngest ages."
Just like children today have to have the latest in clothing, footwear, and accessories in order to be "cool" and "popular" so was it for Roman children. Ancient Roman children of well-to-do families wore more elaborate, decorated shoes than their common counterparts.
Over 4,000 shoes were found at Vindolanda, a Roman army fort in northern Britain that was occupied from the first to fourth centuries. In every time period of the fort's history children's shoes were found in domestic spaces, official military buildings, and rubbish heaps, Greene said. "We don't even have a period, not even Period 1, where we're free of children's shoes," she said.
Greene and her colleagues next traced what shoes were found where and found that the decoration of the shoe depended on the location they were found. In the barracks, for example, children's shoes were similar to the common boot of adult soldiers.
Wooden tablets were found at the site, and researchers now know that Flavius Cerialis, prefect of the Ninth Cohort of the Bavarians, lived in one of the houses around 100 A.D. It is likely that Flavius and his family had something to do with public life around the base, and supporting this idea an elaborate infant shoe was made in the same style as a high-status man's boot.
The shoe has iron studs on the sole, just like a man's shoe would have. The shoe is made of high quality materials, including leather for the upper sole cut into an intricate fishnet pattern. This would not only show off the workmanship of the item, but the colored socks underneath, another item ancient Romans used to denote status. Even as a baby, the infant would have been shown off at official events and parades.
Common shoes found at the base were less elaborate. Sixteen children's shoes with partially intact upper sections were found in the barracks, likely from 105 A.D. to 120 A.D. Many were the basic "fell boot" of the Roman army, a simple, high-ankle shoe without decoration. Other shoes found in the base had the Roman's version of Velcro- carbatina. These shoes were worn by men, women, and children and were easily laced and slipped on and off. They could also be accommodating for a growing child, tightened or loosened for the foot.
In the centurion's or officer's quarters, two carbatina shoes with more than the usual detailing were found, supporting the idea that high-ranking parents dressed their children in nicer shoes.
One shoe found in the barracks did not support this idea. The shoe has little leather, but has decorative triangular tabs and rosette patterns not typically found on a soldier's child's shoe.
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