As long as there has been social inequality, people of means and power have often wanted to wear flashy clothing and eye-catching symbols that visibly differentiate them from the masses. In the ancient and medieval world, kings and emperors would not only wear fabrics with rare dyes and equip themselves with expensive accessories made from precious metals and gems, but they would sometimes ban the common population from wearing colors and garments that were identified with royalty or nobility. In the Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire, centered in Constantinople, the emperor’s exclusive royal wardrobe extended all the way down to his feet. As a part of their regalia, emperors of Constantinople eventually began wearing special boots dyed with a restricted imperial scarlet color. Courtiers and commoners were banned from wearing boots or shoes of the same royal shade. Curiously, this interesting fashion trend seemed to be recorded in an existant mosaic of Emperor Justinian (r. 527-565), where he can be seen wearing red-tinged footwear while surrounded by white-shoed courtiers. A few decades later, Emperor Heraclius—or Herakleios—of Constantinople (r. 610-641) reportedly made an impression battling against the Persians in his exclusive scarlet footgear. As was interestingly phrased by the chronicler, Theophanes (c. 750s-818), “the Emperor was recognizable because of his true boots…” (Theophanes, Chronographia, entry for Annus Mundi 6116). Unfortunately, as most medieval historians were not interested in writing about the footwear of emperors, it is difficult to assess when the trend of scarlet true boots began and ended in Constantinople.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Emperor Justinian and Members of His Court, early 20th century reproduction (original dated 6th century), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET).
- Theophanes, The Chronicle of Theophanes, translated by Harry Turtledove. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.