The practice of foot fetish dates back to the most ancient times. Greek poet Homer once wrote about the beauty of goddesses by making reference to their “soft feet” and “beautiful sandals”. Sappho reveals the erotic nature of a woman’s walk as well as the loveliness of “fine-ankled” women. Spartan poet Archilocus described beautiful women as slender and “fine-ankled”, with “no fat around their ankles”. It is no surprise then that in the story of Aphrodite’s birth, archaic poet Hesiod only mentions one physical attribute, her “lovely” and “shapely” feet. In the Iliad, when Zeus lists his favourite lovers to Hera, he includes Danaë of the “fair ankles”. An Athenian preliminary wedding custom was the tying of the bridal sandals, often with the assistance of Eros, emphasizing the foot’s connection with love. Also, common wedding gifts included footwear.
In ancient Rome, we hear of Roman governor Lucius Salvius Otho going to brothels in order to worship female feet. According to Suetonius, senator Lucius Vitellius kept his mistress’s red slippers under his toga and used to kiss them in public. He was also a big fan of empress Messalina’s feet, going as far as personally removing her shoes.
Both ancient men and women were fascinated by feet, as there was less of a stigma around sex and fetishes.
Female feet in the ancient world were symbols of chastity and femininity. For a man, having direct access to a woman’s feet was a sign of intimacy and of the woman opening up to her lover (who was not necessarily her husband).
We can formulate the hypothesis that ancient men were infatuated with female feet because they represented a kind of “oft submission”, which must have been sexually arousing to the dominant ancient man (perhaps due to a sense of prohibition). In medieval times, female feet were celebrated by poets as an epitome of female beauty because they were “arched” and “long-toed”. The smaller they were, the better. This was in relation to the kind of male submission advertised by courtly love and the figure of the “angelic woman” proposed by the Dolce Stil Novo. While women’s feet and shoes have always been sexualized, there have been times when men’s shoes have been eroticized as well. An example of this is the “poulaine”, a medieval men’s shoe with a long and very pointed toe. This shoe was very popular among the elites of Western Europe, despite being demonized by the Catholic Church because of its phallic appearance.