The History of Leather Part 5 – Ancient Rome

Posted on 14/07/14

When leather became symbolic, as well as fashionable and functional (753 BC to AD 476)

It with the Etruscans, ancient Greece’s finest dressers and workers of leather, that brought the finest footwear fashions from the Greeks to the Romans. Reports suggest that they were part of the Roman Empire from the very beginning, before the cool kids starting joining.

With the Etruscans’ expertise came a number of designs that specifically catered to the Roman people and their needs. They worked with the Romans to develop a sturdier military shoe than the Greeks were used to – the ‘caliga’, produced in vast numbers from organised factories. Caligae have been recovered in large quantities in digs of Roman army camps, and were frequently mentioned in Roman literature. Quite why writers would have needed to mention shoes beyond “the soldiers were equipped with X” is beyond me, but then again, I’m not an iconic ancient Roman writer. Yet.

In a surprising turn of events, a few brave Romans used leather in an attempt to put Emperor Nero in his place. After his paranoia got the better of him, Nero tried on two separate occasions to take his mother, Agrippina, out of the picture. When he finally succeeded, the few that dared to disapprove wanted to remind Nero what the traditional punishment for parricide was – being tied up in a leather bag with a dog, monkey, snake, scorpion and rooster, before being thrown into the River Tiber. A very small-scale Noah’s ark, if you will. With a lot less floating, and fewer happy animals.

What better symbol of your disapproval than to carefully drape leather bags around statues representing Nero himself?

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