What have the Romans ever done for us (socks and sandals excepted)?

They gave the world decent roads, indoor plumbing and some of the goriest spectator sports known to man, but now it appears that the Romans made a hitherto secret contribution to global civilisation by pioneering the wearing of socks with sandals.

It is a look which in recent years has become popularised – if that is the right word – by off-duty geography teachers and embarrassing dads, yet new archaeological evidence suggests that the Romans' famous Italian stylishness may have been ditched to help the colonists cope with the chilly British climate.

Excavations carried out as part of the upgrading of the A1 between Dishforth and Leeming in North Yorkshire have found that rust on the nail in a Roman shoe appeared to bear the impressions of fibres, enough to convince archaeologists that the invaders sported sock-like garments.

The discovery was made at what is believed to have been an ancient industrial estate, including a water-powered mill used to grind flour and grain, close to the site of a forgotten fort at Healam Bridge, which formed part of the Roman frontier 2,000 years ago.

It is believed that the area would have supplied the garrison with provisions before becoming a fully established settlement in its own right.

The Roman road of Dere Street follows much of the route of the modern A1. Cultural heritage team leader Blaise Vyner said the discovery of the fort was likely to tell us more about everyday Roman life in Britain.

"We know a lot about Roman forts, which have been extensively studied, but to excavate an industrial area with a mill is really exciting. We hope it can tell us more about how such military outposts catered for their needs, as self-sufficiency would have been important," he said.

The invaders first landed in Britain in 55BC and again the following year, led by Julius Caesar, the general who had been fighting the Gauls in France.

However, his attempts were thwarted, and it fell to the Emperor Claudius in 43AD to finally deliver on the Romans' long-held ambition of pacifying the problematic Iron Age tribes of Britannia. He ordered 40,000 troops to cross the Channel, bringing much of the country under central control for the first time. The Romans remained in Britain for the best part of the next four centuries.

During this period many of the Romans, who were often from the sunny parts of modern day France and Italy, struggled to cope with the harsh realities of the British climate, especially those billeted in the North.

Letters have been recovered from a garrison at Hadrian's Wall have revealed officers and their men begging family back home to send them extra subuclae (vests) and abollae (heavy cloaks).

Another soldier urged his loved ones to send him "Paria udonum ab Sattua solearum duo et subligariorum duo" which translates as "socks, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants".

The latest evidence corroborates the socks and sandal theory which first emerged when a Roman copper razor handle was recovered from the Tees near Darlington. It was in the shape of a foot adorned with an open-toed sandal and woollen sock.

Ironically, the much-maligned look has been making something of a comeback on the international catwalks this summer, with designers from Burberry to Dior all producing variations on the theme.

So perhaps the Romans were right all along.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power