Contribution to the study of heel irons from present-day Bulgarian lands
Keywords:heel irons, shoes, Middle Ages, Ottoman period, Bulgaria, Balkan Peninsula
It is generally acknowledged that heel irons in Bulgaria came into use around 1200 AD. They are considered one of the usual High medieval finds, which continues to be used in the Ottoman period and even today. They are believed to have been attached to the soles of “rough” shoes, often interpreted as “military”. However, a careful examination of the contexts in which they are found compels a vast revision of existing views.
It is noteworthy that heel irons were not found in cemeteries dating back to the 13th and 14th c. The objects found in settlements are for the most part non-contextual finds, and as a rule, they were unearthed in settlements that indeed existed in the Middle Ages but also continued their life in the Ottoman era. The earliest of the few distinctly documented contexts containing heel irons within settlements cannot be dated before the very end of the 14th or even rather the first half of the 15th c.
On the other hand, heel irons are relatively common in cemeteries dating back to the Ottoman period. The available data suggest that they are one of the objects that appeared in present-day Bulgarian lands during the Ottoman conquest because of the widespread distribution – among all strata of the population and not only the soldiers – of specific oriental shoes and boots: pabuç and çizme. The scarce archaeological evidence from other Balkan countries, i. e. Greece or Serbia, does not contradict this idea. Considering this, one would not be surprised to hear that in Bulgarian the heel iron is called налче (“nalche”), which is a direct borrowing of the Turkish word nalça/na’lçe.
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