Shoes in Antiquity
Right is Right
Pythagoras told all his followers to put their right shoes on first to keep their souls clean. (They also couldn’t eat beans or touch white roosters.) Augustus put his left shoe on first, instead of his right one, and faced a mutiny by his soldiers. He narrowly escaped murder and would never put on a left shoe first again.
Save Your Sole
Roman writer Pliny the Elder had a few recommendations about what to do with your shoes. He has an array of pungent methods for curing shoe-related injuries. Blisters are cured by donkey fat, corns are treated with pig dung, and chilblains are treated by burning up an old shoe and coating the problem area with the ash. He also notes that a dog will never bark at anybody who carries a dog’s tongue in his shoe. It could presumably also be used by burglars.
Spit to the Right
If you wanted to prevent bad luck or were going somewhere dangerous, Romans also believed that it was a good idea to spit into the right shoe before putting it on (always before the left shoe).
Another Man’s Shoes
Ancient Greeks believed that taking the shoe of an enemy and burying it under the foundations of a new temple would dedicate their soul to the “genius” of the place, and mean that they would die within a year.
The ancient Chinese, between 206 BC and 420 AD gave their emperor a pair of “Longevity Shoes” to wear into the afterlife. At the death of the emperor, all the shoes he wore while he lived would be burned. The longevity shoes were the made of solid jade.
Jewish law, like elsewhere in antiquity, says that one should always put the right shoe on first. This still applies today, in orthodox religious practice. The right side is the side of chesed, kindness, which takes precedence over gevurah, severity.
Left is Right
Unless one is involved in a ‘left hand path’, and for religious purposes, is practicing conscious transgression, such as in Tantra. Or wearing flax and linen in one garment, such as worn by the high priest in the temple in Jerusalem. Then the ‘left side’ takes precedent for duration of the ritual.
Barefoot and Inside-Out
Walking outside without shoes is not as ‘cool’ as some free-spirited adults imagine themselves to be. The ‘whole world’ may be holy for the gods, but humans need to discriminate, and then wash their feet before again walking indoors.
Ancient shoes have been found in a number of archaeological sites around the world. For example, hundreds of shoes or moccasins were among a wealth of artefacts found in a cave in Utah, that was inhabited beginning around 1200 CE. The cave, on the shores of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, had 207 animal-skin moccasins, mostly belonging to children. The soles of the shoes were made from a single piece of bison leather, lined with fur, and sewn together at the heel.