Class-con – sandals for modern gladiatrices

The National Post comments on a new range of very expensive sandals that claim to be suitable for gladiatrices.

Dolce & Gabbana didn't make gear for ancient gladiatrices; they make them for warrior women of today. This season, the designing duo seem to have been inspired by Achillia and Amazon: They're selling a range of strappy gladiator sandals. And they're not alone: Fashionable footwear brands, from Alaïa to Zanotti, are offering similar styles for spring and summer. In the ancient world, gladiatrices battled to the death; their sandals, it seems, are still to die for.

The article goes on to quote a writer on gladiators, which come teachers may find interesting.

“It is historical fact that there were female gladiators” writes Stephen Wisdom, author of Gladiators: 100 BC to AD 200. The proof lies in literature: Suetonius and Martial, among other authors, made mention of gladiatrices. A marble relief in the British Museum depicts combatants named Achillia and Amazon in the midst of a match in a region of the Roman Empire called Halicarnassus.

No one can say for certain how Achillia and Amazon became gladiatrices. Emperor Nero is said to have sent the wives of senators into gladiatorial combat. The sight of pampered patrician women fighting for their lives no doubt amused him. In his Satire VI, Juvenal mocked ladies of leisure who chose to become gladiatrices for a thrill. For some wealthy women, being a gladiatrix was fun and fashionable; for some wealthy women today, looking like a gladiatrix still is.

“Gladiators probably did not wear shoes,” Wisdom has written. Achillia and Amazon probably battled barefoot in sand. It's possible that they wrapped their feet in felt. Some gladiators sported the sort of leather sandals that Roman soldiers wore. These sandals consisted of sturdy straps. Azzedine Alaïa sells something similar: a flat sole with three black straps that buckle at the side of the foot and a strap that buckles at the ankle. The price of Alaïa's simple sandals is patrician: $1,000 and up.

Achillia and Amazon wore fasciae, thick leather pads that shielded their shins from sword slashes. Fasciae were fastened on with leather laces that crisscrossed up the calves. Dolce & Gabbana's knee-high sandals feature thin leather fasciae; in lieu of laces, gold buckles climb from ankle to knee.

Balenciaga's gladiator boots take a different tack: They lace up the front, and have supple leather strips on the sides of the legs. Balenciaga's boots also come with high heels, spikes in black or rose steel. The effect is sci-fi: boots made for a gladiatrix from a galaxy far, far away. In Rome, the spikes would have sunk in sand. The gladiatrix? A goner.

Achillia and Amazon were provocatrices, a kind of gladiatrix known to have worn armour. It's possible that their fasciae were made of bronze. Both Burberry's and Miu Miu's gladiator sandals come in metallic colours. Gold, silver, bronze – metallic leather has the look of armour, without the weight.

Italian label Modern Vintage sells sandals whose fasciae are festooned with rhinestones. They're garish – perfect for a fashion victim – or fascia victim. Who knows?

Perhaps gladiatrices had similarly flashy footwear. In 2000, historians in England unearthed a grave that many believe belonged to a gladiatrix. All that was left of her was ash, bits of bone and fragments of coloured glass that had decorated her body in death. The glass sparkled in the soil. Gladiators may be gone; their glitter lingers on.

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