|Cameo corner: Hippo sandals
The massive ditches around the site at Alfoldean didn't just enclose just the mansio, but a whole complex of buildings that would have served Roman officials and traders as they travelled the country. Horses provided one of the most important and fastest means of transport over land, so one of the key facilities would have been the blacksmith's. And one of his key jobs would have been the manufacture of what is believed to have been the precursor of the modern horseshoe: the hippo sandal.
For this programme, Time Team called on farrier Cliff Barnes to recreate a hippo sandal, using a design based on various Roman finds. With the help of some of the pupils from the nearby Christ Hospital School and the use of its fully equipped forge, Cliff set to work on making a modern replica of the Roman shoe. Time Team also decided to test it on a horse to see how practical it would have been – surprisingly, something that had not been done before.
What was your experience in making horseshoes before doing Time Team?
I have been a qualified farrier for the last 13 years. I spent the five years previous to that training to be a farrier. This obviously involves the making of all modern types of horse shoes.
What was the aim of the cameo?
The aim was to actually make and fit some hippo sandals and to see how or why they would have been used.
What materials did you use?
I used mild steel for the reconstruction. The Romans would have originally used wrought iron, which would have been a lot more malleable to work with.
How did you make the shoe?
I managed to get up to the British Museum beforehand and I managed to get up close and personal with some examples there so that I would have a better idea of how to go about it. I took a plate of mild steel and forged it down into a nice triangular shape and then turned a loop on the front. Then the wings on the side had to be formed and welded on the top and bottom.
What was the hardest part of the task?
It's difficult to pinpoint one aspect but probably fire welding the various parts together was the most difficult. Wrought iron would have been much easier to fire weld.
Did you learn anything by doing the reconstruction?
I don't think you would want to work a horse over a long distance wearing these shoes – you certainly wouldn't want to pull a heavy load. Turning would be very difficult with the loop at the front and wings – the horse would probably stab itself with them. The only use I can think of for them is a veterinary purpose – to hold a poultice in place, or something like that. I certainly feel it confirms that the shoes were not for everyday use, but more trials are needed to confirm their use.
If you did it again would you do it differently?
I would love to try to make them in wrought iron but it is difficult to get hold of.
Are there any other reconstructions you would like to try?
I would like to see how the hippo sandals would work in the snow … Also maybe make some Celtic shoes and nails. These are the first recorded attempts to nail on horse shoes.