Loosing a Shoe Latchet: Sandals and Footwear in the First Century

During the 1964 season of excavations at Masada, archaeologists made a stunning and emotionally compelling discovery while working in the area of the elaborate palace complex built by Herod at the north end of the fortress. Located beneath a pile of heavy rubble covering the ruins of a small Roman-style bathhouse, excavators found the only physical remains of Masada’s Jewish defenders discovered at the site itself. Sprawled upon the steps leading to the cold-water pool of the baths and on the ground nearby were the skeletal remains of three individuals—a young man in his twenties, a young woman about eighteen, and an eleven-year-old child.

Surprisingly, each body was accompanied by perishable organic artifacts that gave a rare glimpse into the Masada rebels’ daily lives. Close by the man lay silvered armor scales, arrows, the remains of a prayer shawl, and an ostracon. The dry atmosphere of the Judean desert had preserved the braided hair of the woman’s scalp and several pairs of sandals, including a pair of nearly complete, delicately fashioned lady’s sandals. In stark contrast to the rather delicate sandals found with the body of the woman were the remnants of a Roman caliga, a type of heavy leather shoe with iron hobnails. These Roman shoes were found elsewhere in the fortress and are direct evidence of the Roman conquest and occupation of the site. These rare finds provide insight into the style of footwear that was common for both the Jewish inhabitants of Masada and the Roman army.

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