Ancient “stud shoe sole” discovered in Bavaria

Replica of Roman “Caligae”, which had a nailed sole for stability and tread resistance. © Marcus Regel/

Nail heads that fulfilled a similar function to the studs on football boots: Archaeologists have identified a previously mysterious object from Upper Bavaria as the nailed sole of a Roman shoe. It is a relic of so-called “caligae”, which were worn primarily by soldiers. Finds of remains of these sandal-like shoes still in combination with leather parts are rare, the experts point out.

The town of Oberstimm, south of Ingolstadt, has been the focus of archaeological research for some time. In the early Roman imperial period, there was an auxiliary troop fort there that served to secure the nearby border of the empire. As the Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation (BLfD) reports, archaeologists have now also found traces of a civilian settlement that was formed in the area of ​​the military base between 60 and 130 AD.

Questioning look at a corroded object

During the excavations, the team uncovered numerous finds from the ancient settlement – including ceramics, food remains, traditional costumes and tools. Among the discoveries was an apparently metal object that the archaeologists came across in a structure that they identified as the remains of a former well. At first they suspected that the bent and heavily corroded object could be the remains of a sickle.

To verify this assumption, the object was X-rayed in the BLfD workshops. This finally showed that the curved structure

Left: The initially mysterious find in the state in which it was discovered. Right: The X-ray image reveals the structures of former nail heads in the corroded object. © BLfD

cannot be traced back to the connected blade of a sickle, but to several individual metal objects. These turned out to be nail heads that were partly close together. The find could therefore be clearly identified as the remains of a nailed shoe sole.

Tread firm around 2000 years ago

According to the experts, it is obviously a relic of so-called “caligae”. These sandal-like, but nevertheless very sturdy shoes were worn mainly by soldiers in the Roman imperial era. They consisted of an openwork upper material that was made from a single piece of leather together with the top layer of the sole, thus tightly enclosing the foot. The sewn-on lower sole was hewn with short nails. They fulfilled the function of studs or lugs on today’s shoes: they provided stability and surefootedness when running over rough terrain.

As the team points out, individual shoe nails from Caligae are found quite frequently at Roman sites, but they have rarely been preserved together with remains of the leather sole. In the current case, this was probably due to the favorable conservation conditions in the well. It remains unclear who the shoes belonged to. But the find in the area of ​​a civilian settlement suggests: “The practices, ways of life and also the clothing that the Romans brought to Bavaria were adopted by the local people,” says Amira Adaileh from the BLfD. In conclusion, her colleague Mathias Pfeil emphasizes: “Surprise finds such as the shoe sole from Oberstimm always show that valuable information is collected even after archaeological excavations have been completed,” says the BLfD’s general conservator.

Source: Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation

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