The Roman shoe hoard of Vindolanda

Related Articles

1,800 years ago the Roman army built one of its smallest but most heavily defended forts at the site of Vindolanda, which is now a part of the Frontiers of The Roman Empire World Heritage Site.

The small garrison of a few hundred soldiers and their families took shelter behind a series of large ditches and ramparts, while outside the walls a war was raging between the northern British Tribes and Roman forces.

Once the war was over (c AD 212) the troops and their dependants pulled out of the fort, and anything that they could not carry with them on the march was tossed into the defensive ditches. The rubbish in the ditches was then quickly sealed when a new Roman town and fort was built at the site, preserving the rubbish in an oxygen free environment where the normal ravages of time, rust and decay, crawled to a halt.

 

Roman Sandals - Credit : Vindolanda Trust
Roman Sandals – Credit : Vindolanda Trust

In 2016, the Vindolanda archaeologists excavated the ditch and discovered an incredible time capsule of life and conflict, and amongst the debris were dog and cat skeletons, pottery, leather and 421 Roman shoes. Visitors who were lucky enough to come to Vindolanda this summer watched in amazement as shoe after shoe was found in the ditch, each one a window into the life of type of person who might have once worn it. Baby boots, small children’s shoes, teenagers, ladies and men’s boots, bath clogs, both indoor and outdoor shoes.

What has been uncovered conceivably represents more than one shoe for every person who lived inside the fort at Vindolanda at that time. Dr Andrew Birley, the Vindolanda Trust’s CEO and Director of excavations was thrilled with what he calls ‘an unbelievable and unparalleled demographic census of a community in conflict from two millennia away from today. The volume of footwear is fantastic as is its sheer diversity even for a site like Vindolanda which has produced more Roman shoes than any other place from the Roman Empire’.

The shoe hoard also gives an indication of fashion and affluence of the occupants in AD 212 with some very stylish and well-made shoes, both adults and children’s, a fact which has captured the imagination of football fans with one child’s shoe in particular being likened to a modern Adidas Predator boot. Sonya Galloway, The Vindolanda Trusts Communication Manager noted that ‘the popularity of just one of the shoes has given great exposure to our collection here. It is one of the great assets of Vindolanda’s Designated collection that many of the artefacts are everyday items, things that we can directly connect with, it is the fact that they are so well preserved and almost 2000 years old which is simply extraordinary’.

Roman Sandals - Credit : Vindolanda Trust
Roman Sandals – Credit : Vindolanda Trust

The shoes are now being conserved on site with a specifically re-adapted building to cope with the quantity of finds. The Trust’s Curator Barbara Birley noted ‘the volume of footwear has presented some challenges for our lab but with the help of dedicated volunteers we have created a specific space for the shoe conservation and the process is now well underway’ Barbara went on to say ‘The Vindolanda Trust is committed to the excavation, preservation and public display of its finds although each shoe costs between £80 and £100 to conserve.

Finding so many shoes this year has resulted in significant additional costs for the laboratory’. In light of the cost associated with the shoe hoard the Trust has launched a fundraising campaign asking for support from the public to ‘conserve a shoe’. Dr Andrew Birley commented the Trust does not receive any external funding towards the excavation programme and we exist as a result of visitors to the site and through the support of our volunteers and Friends of Vindolanda. This year has been exceptional and we hope 421 generous people will come forward and donate £80 to help us specifically with the cost of conserving these shoes’. All those who conserve a shoe will receive a numbered Certificate of Conservation full details of how to conserve a shoe can be found on the Vindolanda website. (www.vindolanda.com/conserve-a-shoe)

VINDOLANDA TRUST

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

Prehistoric killing machine exposed

Judging by its massive, bone-crushing teeth, gigantic skull and powerful jaw, there is no doubt that the Anteosaurus, a premammalian reptile that roamed the African continent 265 to 260 million years ago - during a period known as the middle Permian - was a ferocious carnivore.

Noushabad – The Hidden Underground City

Noushabed, also called Oeei or Ouyim is an ancient subterranean city, built beneath the small town of Nushabad in present-day Iran.

10 British Iron Age Hill Forts

A hill fort is a type of earthworks used as a fortified refuge or defended settlement, located to exploit a rise in elevation for defensive advantage.

Stabiae – The Roman Resort Buried by Mount Vesuvius

Stabiae was an ancient Roman town and seaside resort near Pompeii, that was largely buried during the AD 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius in present-day Italy.

Astronomers Accurately Measure the Temperature of Red Supergiant Stars

Red supergiants are a class of star that end their lives in supernova explosions. Their lifecycles are not fully understood, partly due to difficulties in measuring their temperatures. For the first time, astronomers develop an accurate method to determine the surface temperatures of red supergiants.

Researchers Overturn Hypothesis That Ancient Mammal Ancestors Moved Like Modern Lizards

The backbone is the Swiss Army Knife of mammal locomotion. It can function in all sorts of ways that allows living mammals to have remarkable diversity in their movements.

Archaeologists Discover one of Poland’s Largest Megalithic Tomb Complexes

Archaeologists excavating in Poland have discovered a large megalithic complex, containing several dozen tombs dating from 5500 years ago.

New Technology Allows Scientists First Glimpse of Intricate Details of Little Foot’s Life

In June 2019, an international team brought the complete skull of the 3.67-million-year-old Little Foot Australopithecus skeleton, from South Africa to the UK and achieved unprecedented imaging resolution of its bony structures and dentition in an X-ray synchrotron-based investigation at the UK's national synchrotron, Diamond Light Source.

Popular stories

Ani – The Abandoned Medieval City

Ani is a ruined medieval city, and the former capital of the Bagratid Armenian kingdom, located in the Eastern Anatolia region of the Kars province in present-day Turkey.

Interactive Map of Earth’s Asteroid and Meteor Impact Craters

Across the history of our planet, around 190 terrestrial impact craters have been identified that still survive the Earth’s geological processes, with the most recent event occurring in 1947 at the Sikhote-Alin Mountains of south-eastern Russia.

The Sunken Town of Pavlopetri

Pavlopetri, also called Paulopetri, is a submerged ancient town, located between the islet of Pavlopetri and the Pounta coast of Laconia, on the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece.

Exploring the Avebury Stone Circle Landscape

The area was designated part of the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites by UNESCO in 1986, in recognition for one of the most architecturally sophisticated stone circles in the world, in addition to the rich Neolithic, and Bronze age remains found nearby, such as the West Kennet Avenue, Beckhampton Avenue, West Kennet Long Barrow, the Sanctuary, and Windmill Hill.