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Title: Best foot forward : the social significance of representations of feet and footwear in the north-western provinces of the Roman Empire
Authors: Shaw, Elizabeth Joan
Issue Date: 2022
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: Roman artefacts depicting human feet are found across the empire, but what did they mean to people living in the north-western provinces? Using a mixture of theoretical approaches including object biography and contextual archaeology, this thesis aims to answer three questions: what may have motivated the Romans to choose foot iconography for decorative objects; what we might learn from them about the identity and beliefs of the people who owned them; how far the cosmological role played by feet, as documented by ancient authors, is applicable to the north-western provinces. Using data from museums, archaeological reports and other publications, a corpus of 1,324 foot-shaped artefacts across 12 different categories was assembled. Their geographical and chronological distribution, whether they depicted left or right feet, style of footwear, and the type of setting they were found in were noted. The data for actual footwear from 18,465 burials demonstrate Roman ritual use of shoes, and data for 1,311 wells may provide some evidence for the ritual use of Roman footwear in this context. Trends and symbolism in Roman hobnailing patterns, which are often included on footshaped artefacts, were also researched. In the Roman world, the foot represented the person as a whole. Foot-shaped artefacts may symbolise deities, and thus express a particular religious affiliation. The footprint acted as a sort of signature, especially for those normally invisible in Roman studies. Foot-shaped metal stamps were used to mark goods, as makers or owners. Roman footwear played a metaphorical role. Shoes protect the feet from dirt, cold and injury, and are associated with crushing an enemy underfoot, which could be a supernatural enemy. Shoe-shaped artefacts may have been apotropaic, protecting travellers on a journey, which could be the journey of life, or to the Underworld. Thus, Roman foot-shaped artefacts are polysemous, running from novelty items, through markers of fashion and status, to symbols of beings, both divine and human, appropriate votive offerings and grave goods, and apotropaic charms, frequently at the same time.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of History, Classics and Archaeology

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