Ave Imperator, Morituri te Salutant
I’ve always been curious about all manner of things and I suppose that’s how I ended up with a very healthy respect for history (yeah, I’m a geek).
Possibly, that’s why I’m so fascinated in discovering the history behind the clothing we wear.
Today, my focus is on Roman sandals.
My story begins with the phrase, “Ave Imperator, morituri te salutant” which means Hail, Emperor, those who are about to die salute you. The phrase is quoted by Suetonius (in “The Life of the Caesars”). Supposedly, this statement was used during mock naval encounters, though through popular culture, many of us probably associate the phase with Gladiators. I know I did. I recall seeing it in the movie Gladiator. But being a child of the 80s, I first heard it from AC/DC.
I remember the first time I heard the song. I was riding down a dusty dirt road in a yellow Camaro with my cousin and her new boyfriend. We were listening to 96ROCK out of Atlanta and suddenly we heard, “For those of us about to rock…”
Somewhere, I’d learned that Gladiator fights were originally part of funeral ceremonies. What I didn’t know was why, so I googled and found a comprehensive article called Murderous Games: Gladiatorial Contest in Ancient Rome. (If you’re interested in the history of Gladiators, this article is pretty comprehensive).
Today’s roman sandals got their start as heavy-soled “hobnailed” military shoes called Caliga. These shoes were worn by Roman Legionary soldiers throughout the Roman Empire. This means that the fashion sandals that we wear today got their start as military marching boots. (It’s interesting to me how many of our fashions started out as military items.)
These sandals were designed to allow airflow to the foot which reduced the probability of blisters forming during long marches. The original sandals were made of three layers: the outsole, the openwork, and the insole. These boots laced up the center of the foot to the top of the ankle. Iron hobnails were forged into the soles to reinforce the shoe and provide traction. These hobnails were also effective weapons against the enemy.
The emperor, Caligula (which means little soldier’s boot), got his nickname while accompanying soldiers who fought campaigns in Germania during the reign of his father, Germanicus.
Who knew we were wearing so much history on our feet?
Hope everyone is having a great week!