A Short History of Leather Satchels: From Romans To Scaramanga

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Tradtional Leather Satchel
Tradtional Leather Satchel

From jewel tones and neon colours to classic leather and distressed finishes, the leather satchel has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Worn by everyone from children to teenagers, working professionals to A-List celebrities, this traditional accessory has become an institution in itself. Here at Scaramanga, we like ours handmade in an ethical way, and pride ourselves on a range of finishes and styles. Many of our bags come with a small history lesson – they’re modelled around traditional school bags from the mid-twentieth century, and feature the same style of hardware and fastenings. The first bags of this style, however, were used centuries before during the Roman times – to find out more about the origins of your favourite accessory, read on for the Scaramanga guide to the history of leather satchels.

Medium Wide Leather Satchel, £80
Medium Wide Leather Satchel, £80

Cross-body leather bags were first used during Roman times, and were carried by legionaries as part of their luggage – they were known as ‘loculus’, which translates from Latin as ‘little place’. Thought to have been used by the soldiers to carry their personal belongings and any rations they might need, the loculus measured roughly 45x30cm, and was probably made from goat hide. About as far removed from the trendy satchels of today as you can get, they were purely practical, finished with bronze rings – and usually carried on a shoulder pole.

Evidence gathered from archaeological remains and poetry shows that satchels next popped up around 300AD, on the shoulders of monks bringing Christianity to Scotland. Similarly to their use in Roman times, the leather bags were chosen for their practicality, and would have allowed the easy transportation of heavy religious texts to spread the world of God. Fragments discovered by historians have indicated that these bags were fairly large, and could have held such works as ‘The Book of Kells’, one of the most famous Christian manuscripts from this period. Book satchels are regarded as incredibly important during this time, as they played a vital role in Scotland’s conversion to Christianity.

Evacuees with satchels. Image courtesy of The Newham Story.
Evacuees with satchels. Image courtesy of The Newham Story.

Fast forward to 1914, and the outbreak of the First World War, and satchel-style bags make another appearance – this time often made from canvas rather than leather. Known as a ‘haversack’, it was a basic , highly functional bag with a flap that folded over the top, and would have been used to carry smaller items such as a knife, personal items, water, and up to four days worth of unused rations.  They reappeared again during the Second World War, but the satchel as we know it today made an appearance back on the home front, often in the arms of evacuees as they boarded the train to a safer environment. Large leather satchels, often almost as big as the child that carried it, would be packed with lunch for the journey, and often books and items of comfort.

Scaramanga's Satchels For Children
Scaramanga's Satchels For Children

Leather satchels continued their rise in popularity, appearing throughout the middle of the twentieth century as leather school bags, and then exploded back onto the fashion scene around five years in a range of colours, styles and sizes. Here at Scaramanga we pioneered bring back traditional leather satchels back to life with a minimum of modern tweaks. Our favourites are the versions that honour the bag’s beginnings, but still manage to stand their own amongst modern day styles and trends.

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