I wonder how these would cope with snow and ice?


I did a double-take when I saw this photograph on MeWe of a modern interpretation (complete with stiletto heels) of a pair of sabatons.  Click the image for a larger view.

Sabatons were part of military armor for centuries, evolving from the pointed style shown (sometimes called sollerets) to a flatter, blunt-toed style in the sixteenth century.  They were de rigeur for knights, and also worn by men-at-arms (usually of the gentlemanly class) who could afford them, or captured them from an enemy. (A good suit of armor would cost many years’ wages for a peasant or common soldier, so they had to make do with padded cloth and leather.)

It’s amusing to look at those modern works of “fashion” while imagining someone trying to walk in them down an icy, snowy sidewalk.  I reckon the slipping and sliding would be epic!  However, I tried to imagine what it must have been like to actually fight in them (without the stiletto heels, of course).  On horseback they’d be essential to protect the wearer’s foot from blows delivered by infantrymen trying to stop him;  but if the knight fought on the ground (as was common in, for example, the Wars of the Roses), that same slipperiness would have made them more of a liability than an asset in wet or muddy conditions.  How would they – how did they – keep their footing?

I can see them being left off in favor of heavy leather boots for fighting on foot, because for an enemy to bend down to strike at one’s feet would leave them very vulnerable to a counter-stroke;  but I can also see that other battlefield hazards (e.g. sharp caltrops scattered by an enemy, or spears wielded by footmen) would render boots as dangerous as sabatons for their wearer.  Also, what if one had to fight first on horseback (e.g. in a charge), then on foot if one’s horse was injured or killed?  The sabatons might change from an asset to a liability in a matter of seconds.

I simply don’t know.  I’ve read something of the period, but not enough to be able to answer my mental questions.  What about you, readers?  Has anyone gone into this subject in more detail, to provide us with a better answer?  If so, please let us know in Comments.  Thanks!



  1. Actually, stilettos were brilliant on an icy sidewalk. Just stepped carefully and planted the heel in the ice like a crampon with every step. Worked like a charm. No, didnt plan it; freezing rain during Christmas mass. Came out to a glaze of ice.

  2. Peter look at what the skaters use after their ice routine.

    While the paintings show shining armor, they had leather boots over their Sabatons as they had to walk from the Armorers up onto the Horse.

    No Stilettos though I suspect 🙂

  3. The armor appears to have been a fashion statement: "I am a Rider and have no need to walk on the soil." I know that the civil dress leather and fabric footwear had its toes tied back to just below the knee; presumably the armor sollarets were similarly lashed up.

  4. My understanding is that armor was designed for horseback use and to get unhorsed in battle was pretty much a death sentence.
    Half armor and mail were much more common, and much cheaper, than full plate armor.

  5. Hi Peter,

    I think you may have a misconception that the sabaton is itself a whole shoe with a sole of metal. This is not the case – they are merely a shoe cover that protects the top of the shod foot, and do not hinder the wearer from walking in any conditions. Here is a relevant video from the excellent "Knyght Errant" channel by Ian Lespina, who is to medieval armor what a certain other Ian is to firearms.

  6. Not knowing much about Knight riders, I would hazard a guess that a slightly (at least) pointed boot would help them to get their foot into the stirrup. Especially if it slipped out in battle.

    Also, I wonder if foot soldiers may have worn something like wooden clogs. They would seem to be a cheaper way to protect the feet than iron.

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