You either love them or hate them: Gladiator sandals. But like it or not, they definitely are one of the most intriguing shoe styles of the last few years.
Varying in height from mid-calf to thigh-high, the gladiator style has been adapted by many high end shoe brands. Significant features are the endless number of straps around the leg, held together by a vertical back or front seam. The name ‘gladiator sandal’ has been adapted worldwide to define this type of footwear. But is that really legitimate?
Armed but barefooted
That question can be answered firmly; no it isn’t! Actually, ‘gladiator’ is a generic term for more than 25 different types of armed combatants who entertained audiences in the Roman Republic and Roman Empire in violent confrontations with other gladiators, wild animals, and condemned criminals. Each type of combatant had its own type of armor and fought against its own kind of opponent. Significant detail concerning almost every type of gladiator: they fought barefooted…
As a combat shoe the contemporary gladiator sandal wouldn’t have been of any use. Gladiators used to protect their shinbones with shin guards during fights, but hardly their calfs. Contemporary gladiator sandals are constructed the other way around: reinforced back and open at the front. Completely useless if it wasn’t the gladiator intention to show off his well-trimmed legs in the arena.
So how did the gladiator end up with this name than? Probably the inventor got confused with the Roman caliga, the ankle-high sandal that gave emperor Caligula (little boot) his nickname. Caligae were heavy-soled hobnailed marching boots, worn by soldiers of the Roman legions throughout the Roman Republic and Roman empire. Just like the contemporary gladiator sandal, a caliga is made of multiple straps, attached to the sole and the back seam and closed at the front with a leather shoe lace. Interesting detail is that contemporary gladiator sandals are worn by women only and have become a true symbol of femininity!
Photo 1: Roman soldiers wearing caligae.
Photo 2: SAZ’ gladiator sandals featuring studs on the vamp instead of underneath the soles.
Photo 3: Armed and barefooted; gladiators in Emperial Rome.