Footwear

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Footwear

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Bare Feet. The average ancient Egyptian did not wear shoes most of the time. Among workmen, quarrymen received sandals as part of their pay. Agricultural workers, even in modern times, went barefoot. Otherwise, footwear was restricted to the elite.

Materials and Form. Sandals were made from grass, reeds, rawhide, and leather. The typical sandal had a strap between the big and second toes, which attached to a crosspiece that went over the inner side of the ankle and attached to the sole on both sides of the ankle. The sole of the sandal was cut to the shape of the foot. Leather sandals found in the tomb of Tutankhamun (circa 1332-1322 b.c.e.) were decorated with gold. On the bottom of these soles were figures of the enemies of Egypt, so that the king could trample them each time he took a step. Two types of sandals were “worn” by mummies and would have been useless in life: ones made of cloth, impregnated with plaster, called cartonnage, and others made from thin sheets of gold.

Footwear Etiquette. Egyptians removed their sandals in the presence of their superiors. The most memorable example of this custom is found in the biblical book of Exodus, where Moses removed his sandals when he realized God was in the Burning Bush.

Sources

Rosalie David, Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt (New York: Facts on File, 1998), pp. 294–295.

Lyn Green, “Clothing and Personal Adornment,” in Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, volume 1, edited by Donald B. Redford (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 278.

Miriam Stead, Egyptian Life (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986).

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