One of the very earliest hieroglyphs, or picture stories of ancient Egypt found preserved in tombs, shows a sandal maker accompanying King Menes, the Egyptian ruler who united Upper and Lower Egypt in about 3100 B.C.E. Despite this evidence, most hieroglyphs show that Egyptians during the Old Kingdom period (c. 2700–c. 2000 B.C.E. ) and the Middle Kingdom period (c. 2000–c. 1500 B.C.E. ) went barefoot. Beginning in the New Kingdom period (c. 1500–c. 750 B.C.E. ), however, sandals became the favored form of footwear. Sandals protected the feet from the hot desert sand, but their open tops allowed the feet to stay cool. They were certainly worn by nobles and pharaohs, high officials and kings and queens, though working people may still have gone barefoot.
The sandals worn by ancient Egyptians were very simple. They had a base that was made of wood, goatskin, or fibers from palm trees or the papyrus plant. They were held to the foot by simple straps, one of which crossed the arch of the foot and the other that went from the arch strap between the big toe and the second toe. Many of the sandals that have been discovered come to a point in front of the toes.
More elaborate sandals have been discovered in the tombs of some of the pharaohs. The tomb of King Tutankhamen, who ruled briefly in the fourteenth century B.C.E. and whose tomb was discovered in 1922, contained several pairs of sandals, including a jeweled pair and a pair with soles that were imprinted with images of his enemies. The images were meant to convey that when King Tutankhamen walked on these sandals he crushed his enemies underfoot.
Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.
Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
[ See also Volume 1, Ancient Egypt: Unraveling the Mystery of Hieroglyphs box on p. 18 ]