Are you Greek or Egyptian? It’s all in the eye’s ... No, make that the feet! n August 2003 the press reported the discovery of the statue of a Roman legionary wearing socks under their sandals, in a Romano-Celtic temple found in London. Romans were blamed for having introduced in Britain what some would say an example of appalling bad taste. According to anatomists three quarters of the population have a so-called Egyptian foot which is characterised by a great toe longer than the second toe, 1/6 of the population have so called Greek foot, where the great toe is shorter than the second toe, while the rest of the population have a square foot where the great toe has the same length as the second. The reference to Egypt is due to the fact that in Egyptian paintings, the great toe appeared longer than the second toe. Greek Gods as a rule were portrayed barefoot even when they wore elaborate dresses. However there were some exceptions: Diana, the huntress goddess, wore proper footwear, and often other gods portrayed while hunting were not barefoot. The presence of snakes maybe influenced the decision of providing both Athena and Aesculapius with a means to tread on them.
Roman Emperors, especially for their eastern subjects, promoted themselves as having a divine nature. Augustus paid a lot of attention to his own iconography. In the same statue shown above, he is portrayed wearing an elaborate cuirass over an even more elaborate toga, but barefoot. To the eyes of some western viewers who perhaps associate being barefoot with being a little uncivilised, the feet of Augustus do not seem to match the rest of the statue. However, walking barefoot was a privilege of the ancient gods, who clearly were not affected by thorns and scratches.
Many ancient relief’s showing fights often portrayed one side barefoot and the other not. In the relief showing a battle between the Greeks (led by Achilles) and the Amazons, nakedness is a sign of superiority, while in relief showing Romans and Germans the superiority of the former is enhanced by their being fully dressed and wearing boots. ( Many thanks to Roberto Piperno for this extract from his article ‘Roman Feet and Sandals’ romeartlover.tripod.com
Vol 67 No 6