Vindolanda (G-B): Roman Fort Yields Hundreds of Shoes

Tony Henderson

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Excavations at Vindolanda Roman Fort have dug up a haul of old shoes - and one looks rather familiar

Hsr nec 101016shoes 01Vindolanda shoe collection

It may not be evidence that they booted a football around Hadrian’s Wall 1,800 years ago but a new find does suggest that good design never goes out of fashion.

Volunteers on the annual excavations at Vindolanda Roman fort in Northumberland have unearthed an astonishing 421 shoes from a ditch.

And one of the shoes is strikingly similar to the Adidas Predator football boot.

The Roman shoe was meant to be worn indoors so that you did not bring the mud from outside inside,” said Vindolanda director of excavations Dr Andrew Birley.

It offered comfort and flexibility and its similarity to the Predator shows that although the Romans did not have the benefit of playing football, good design stands the test of time.”

The ditch was part of the heavily-defended early Third century fort at a time of warfare with the northern British tribes, which saw the Emperor Severus come to the country to head an army.

It was a time of extreme conflict and the shoes, ranging across the board from babies and young people to men and women, show that the garrison and their families were living inside the fort,” said Andrew.

The remains of dogs and cats were also found in the ditch which indicates that when the garrison was withdrawn, they were restricted to taking only items which could be carried on the march, leaving pets and surplus shoes to be dumped in the ditch.

They may have had to walk hundreds of miles and perhaps longer and had to leave anything they couldn’t carry,” said Andrew.

In the ditch we have the full range of shoes from fashion and ladies’ slippers to marching boots, baby shoes, sandals, indoor and outdoor footwear and bath clogs.

The shoes are beautifully preserved and represent the whole population of the fort, which is stunning.”

Hsr nec 101016shoes 02jpgVindolanda shoe collection

What has been uncovered is thought to represent more than one shoe for every person based at Vindolanda at that time.

Andrew said: ”It is 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.”

More than 7,000 items of footwear have been dug up from the site over the years, with 150 shoes being on display.

But this season’s haul has landed the Vindolanda Trust with a problem of how to foot the bill for the preservation of the footwear – leading it to launch an adopt-a-shoe appeal.

The shoes are undergoing conservation treatment on site and trust curator Barbara Birley said: “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.

Hsr nec 101016shoes 04Vindolanda shoe collection

The 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.”

Andrew said: “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.”

Adopters will receive a numbered Certificate of Conservation, with full details on shoe conservation at