The calceus was the first shoe in history to look like modern dress shoes. A special type of calceus had been worn by Etruscan kings, who ruled parts of the Italian peninsula before the Romans. In common usage beginning in the Roman Republic (509–27 B.C.E. ), the calceus had a leather upper secured to a sole that could be made of leather or wood. Calcei (the plural of calceus) were worn outside with the toga, the traditional outer garment worn by Roman citizens. Along with the solea, or sandal, the calceus was the most common form of footwear worn in ancient Rome.

The calceus could take many forms. At its simplest it was a kind of moccasin, made from a single piece of leather that wrapped around the sole of the foot and laced together over the arch. But as Roman shoemaking skills grew more advanced so did the calceus. The uppers of the calceus were stitched to a separate sole and might appear in a variety of lengths.

As with other forms of clothing, who wore calcei and what kinds of calcei were worn indicated the social position or status of the wearer. Slaves, for example, were not allowed to wear calcei at all. But statesmen known as senators wore a special kind of calceus that had a high top that covered the ankle. They were secured with four black thongs (leather strips) and a buckle. Emperors wore a different form of calceus, called a mulleus, which was laced with red thongs. Many different varieties of calcei have been discovered in ancient Rome, either from the many statues that survived the era or from actual shoes that have been discovered.


Kippen, Cameron. The History of Boots. (accessed on July 11, 2003).

Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Yates, James. "Calceus." Smith's Dictionary: Articles on Clothing and Adornment.*/Calceus.html (accessed on July 24, 2003).

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