The History of Leather Part 4 – Ancient Greece

Posted on 13/07/14

When leather became fashionable as well as functional (1200 BC to AD 500)

The Ancient Greeks brought leather out of the shadows and right onto the front lines. Its durability, weatherproofing and negligible weight made it perfect for use in shields. Perhaps the best known ancient Greek leather product, that you can still buy today in fact, would have to be the various designs of Greek sandal – iconic, breathable designs that have truly stood the test of time, a lot like the leather jacket designs that would follow in the 20th Century.

A quick Google search for “Greek sandals” reveals an extraordinary variety of sandal and shoe designs, all inspired by traditional Greek designs, some faithful to the originals, and some that have been adapted to better suit a modern audience. Each design was intended to fit a very specific situation. The ‘krepis’, for instance, was a rugged shoe/sandal hybrid favoured by soldiers. You’ll recognise these from every ancient Greek epic that has graced the silver screen, including the terrible ones like the Clash Of The Titans remake, or its equally terrible sequel.

The running theme of these designs was leather. The straps that they were equipped with were made of leather across the board, as were the soles, if you could afford to have them. The Ancient Greeks realised just how adaptable leather could be. They were perhaps the first civilisation to offer different shoes for work and for play. Asking for your shoes at a social gathering was the “we’d better be off then” or “I’ve got work in the morning”of its day.

In what is perhaps the most blatant endorsement of a material one could hope for, a leather bag was an integral part of Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey”. Aeolus, master of the winds, rewards Odysseus with a leather bag containing all of the winds, except the west wind, to guarantee a safe sail home. Unfortunately, curiosity got the best of the crew that Odysseus sailed with, leading them to open the bag, releasing the winds and resulting in a mighty storm driving them right back where they had come from.

If an ability to hold all of the wind in the world isn’t Homer vouching for leather’s strength and reliability, I don’t know what is!

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