If the shoe fits, what color should they be ANYWAY?

Oh red shoes. Byzantines and red shoes. Wear ALL the red shoes, but…should we be wearing the red shoes?

In the SCA, we’re all playing nobility, but we still have a hierarchy. Granted, it’s nothing like a true feudal system, but we still have ranks and titles that come with it certain privileges in dress. A knight or master of arms is a fine example with their right to wear a white belt or baldric. In the case of the Eastern Romans, shoes played a huge part in who you were and what job you did.

Red shoes are imperial in nature. Done. Story over.

vader
This is me getting my dreams shattered.

This started because I was pondering joining the Red Shoe Club under the urgings of a duchess friend from Artemisia. Prompted for documentation that women wore them, I turned to my favorite, expensive source on the matter: Reconstructing the Reality of Images by Maria Parani. (Best $300 I ever spent on one book.) I seriously refer to it as my Book of Armaments.

grenade3
Oh Lord, bless this my book of Byzantine goodness so that I may dress snazzily, with thy mercy!

Parani pulls no punches in that she states that documentation for women wearing the red shoes is scarce (pg. 30.). I have yet to follow up her footnotes, but she cites Michael Psellos on the fact that the Empresses did wear the red shoes, and then Anna Komnene on that women wearing them in the absence of a male heir was rare.  Veering away from shoes momentarily, this is something I’m noticing a lot in the ways of court dress and titles: the women often wore what their husband were wearing. They took their titles, and they took their clothing privileges. So in the case of a solitary female ruler, she may not wear the red shoes in the lack of a male consort. We look at this now as incredibly misogynistic, but this is how the world worked for centuries.

In period, I would have a husband, and he would be the hypatos (consul), therefore, as hypatissa, I would be allowed to mimic his clothing and regalia for court functions. In the SCA, my husband is not a baron, so I stand alone as a baroness. This is common in the game we play. So this is when you need to think with your persona, versus thinking as a SCAdian. Of course, if I really thought as my persona, I wouldn’t be in Byzantine dress most of the time anyway, I would be in Norman dress.  Gross. But I digress.

So, if red shoes aren’t an option unless you’re on the throne (and consequently, a royal peer having already been ON the throne and have in excess a wardrobe of royal lovelies) what choices do you have?

Parani herself seems to uncover several color options. In addition to the Imperial red, there’s yellow, blue, and green. Like all things Byzantine, these change over the course of history depending on what the emperor ate for lunch.  There is one citation she gives in which in a manuscript dated to the 10th Century, Pontius Pilate is seen wearing red shoes. (pg 82.) Is this evidence that non-imperials were wearing red? Hard to say. Personally as somebody who’s been reading up on iconography, such things could be used as symbolism. Perhaps to this artist, Pilate had feigned imperial power?

The general information I can compile (without just regurgitating Parani’s words, which is uncool anyway) at least for the re-enactor/re-creators looking for shoe ideas, is the following:

Yellow: Prefects, and then later the panhypersebastos (patrikoi within high favor of the Imperial Family) (pg. 71-72, 82.)

Blue: The Kaisar and Sebastokrator, usually immediate family members to the Emperor and maybe in line for the throne. In the Palailogos Dynasty, the Sebastokrator would have eagles embroidered on them. (pg. 71-72)

Green: Protovestiarios, the head eunuch in charge of finances.  (pg. 71-72)

Red and White with eagle embroideries: The Despotes, title of the heir-apparent during the Palailogos Dynasty. (pg. 72)

One red, one black: Chronicled by Arab geographer Ibn Hauqal as being worn by the Prefect in the 10th Century. (pg. 71 n. 83.)

That doesn’t leave a lot of options for SCAdians looking to stay in their persona. It would make sense for the Prince and Princess to wear blue, and I don’t know many eunuchs (not that they’d tell me anyway.)

So this really narrows it down to well, yellow. But who would wear it? Well, in some definitions, prefects were regional governors. In Greek the term is Eparch. From what I can gather, an eparchy was more of a district than the themata, which were ruled by the anthypatoi, or proconsuls.

But in the SCA, who would we place in these positions? My previous post discussed the equivalence of the anthypatoi with landed baronage, and hypatoi with court baronage. A barony is still an administrative area that was governed. But is this something that should be limited to just the SCA baronage? Ehhhh…maybe? I think this is going to be one of those “let your persona do the walking” things. I have yet to see a kingdom in our game that has sumptuary laws on shoes. Your best bet would be to study your own period and come up with who you want to be. Nobody is going to stop you as a lord or lady from wearing red shoes, but do you personally want to feign claim to the throne? Impostors got blinded in period. That doesn’t sound like much fun. And as far as the panhypersebastoi are concerned, that was any family that was in high favor of the Imperials in the mid 12th Century. So if you’re a later persona, that’s an option, especially if you’re in a kingdom where populace swearing fealty is common. If you’re in an office that swears fealty, absolutely.

On that note, I’m going yellow shoe shopping.

Friendly note: Historians love to argue, and this is information from ONE source. Although Doctor Parani’s work is very thorough and well cited, there are possibly other historians that disagree with her and have their own evidence. Don’t take this as the gospel truth, and feel free to explore other resources.

4 thoughts on “If the shoe fits, what color should they be ANYWAY?

  1. I love this post! I’ve decided that my family and I are going to SCA 50 year next summer (after about 5 years of not playing) and because it’s summer I’ve been thinking that greco-roman would be easy, comfortable garb to get us through this event if nothing else. However I’ve been hemming an hawing over just how to dress us. Having a grant of arms (my husbands honors are aoa level), I generally consider myself an upper class merchant and I want to keep our clothing appropriate as such. It’s nice to read that other people take these things into consideration when they think about what to wear for their persona as well. So, yea, I guess I just wanted to say hello and I love this post.

  2. Claudia Valeria Secunda

    Just out of curiosity, what would early Imperial women’s footwear look like? My SCA persona, Claudia Secunda, is super-early, 2nd century Roman (technically too early for Society, but after seeing people show up to events dressed like anime characters or wearing elf ears I stopped worrying about such things) and I am not sure what I should be wearing on my feet.

    1. First and foremost, you are absolutely OK for the SCA. The only rule is “Pre-17th Century.” The “Fall of Rome” bit no longer applies, especially with so much wonderful research being done with Ancient Egypt now.

      As far as shoes goes, the Edict of Diocletian in the 3rd Century lists something like 300 different types of shoes! So really your options are limitless as far as sandalia go. I actually wear a pair from Medieval Moccasins in a light natural leather. Their pattern is based on Romano-British finds and they are way more comfortable than other sandals I’ve worn. I have a super sensitive Achilles tendon, so if you don’t like leather bites, this is a great, affordable option. You can also look at the “flip flop” style that was found in Vindolanda. Women had a wider variety of shoe options than men did. That much we know. There were also no color restrictions for women either. Obviously don’t wear caligae, the Roman soldier’s boot, but in a pinch, any modern gladiator sandal that doesn’t have one of the stupid zippers in the back will pass just fine.

      I recommend checking out Sebesta and Bonfante’s “World of Roman Costume” for great images of shoe types to get ideas from.

  3. Pingback: A very merry Anachronistic and Impulsive Arts and Crafts Weekend at Anna’s Rome! | Anachronistic and Impulsive

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