Posted By el Toro Posted On

The Sandals of Ancient Egypt

In ancient Egypt, some garments differentiated the social classes of those who wore them. They also carried a series of meanings depending on the type of clothing and the person who wore it.

The powerful priestly class in charge of the Egyptian temples used animal skins to cover themselves; they believed that the strength of the beast could influence their own physical strength.

Sandals, gold leaf, New Kingdom, 1479–1425 BC. Photo, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain

In addition to woven linen, the most common material within everyone’s reach was papyrus, a reed that grows naturally on the banks of The River Nile.

Papyrus, along with vegetable fibers such as branches of palm trees intertwined with ornaments of various metals or semi-precious stones, was how the ancient Egyptians created shoes.

Children’s leather sandals, New Kingdom, 1479–1458 BC.

The colors of the dresses and shoes had some symbols:

Yellow represented the eternal, imperishable, and indestructible. Closely related to gold and the sun, yellow was attributed to the god Ra and became the color of the pharaoh.

Green was a symbol of freshness and life, of the Earth and fertility.

Blue was the symbol of truth, life, and rebirth.

White, the color purity; the color of cleanliness and holiness. This color was used to represent the dress of most Egyptians and symbolically was closely related to the priesthood.

Red was the symbol of masculinity; it was associated with fire and blood, but it could also mean destruction and death. It was the color of the desert, naturally opposed to fertility.

A gold guard or toecap, New Kingdom, 1479–1425 BC. Photo, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain

Discovered in the tomb of the young pharaoh Tutankhamun were shoes made of gold, wood, ivory, and leather. Some of the sandals had drawings made from beads.

For the ancient Egyptians, sandals were special, respected, and synonymous with magnanimity.

The Governor of Upper Egypt and General of the King’s armies, Uni, said, “I was the one who organized the army, even though my title was Chief of the Pharaoh’s Landowners, and who ensured the good balance of the situation so that none of them took loaves or sandals from those who were on the road.”

Pair of sandals from the tomb of Amenophis III, New Kingdom, 1479–1458 BC.

There was a difference between footwear for ordinary or daily use and those for ceremonies or funeral acts.

In the last trip, taking into account the belief of life beyond, footwear conserved certain signs of rank. Thus, the priests were embalmed and shod with papyrus sandals; no other material could be used for the footwear, nor could a different sandal model be used for these rites (Herodotus II:37).

White sandals were a sign of purity in funeral rites, and when the deceased wore them, they appeared before Osiris as a symbol that they were free of dust or dirt.

Sandal maker, Rejmira Tomb, New Kingdom, 1504–1425 BC.