View Full Version : How tall were humans through history?

The Great Philosopher
08-17-2009, 05:43 PM
I've always heard that people in general were much shorter on average through history compared to nowadays. I've heard that people were significantly shorter on average even in, for instance, the days of Napoleon, which was only about 200 years ago. Was this really the case, and are there any sources showing roughly how tall people might have been at different times in history?

How tall would Alexander the Great and his army probably have been on average?
How tall Jesus and the Romans?
The British and Americans fighting in the Revolutionary War?

08-17-2009, 05:50 PM
People were not generally shorter 200 years ago. The impression was due to looking at houses from the town periods with their low doorway and ceilings and short beds. But the low ceilings and doorways were a way to make the rooms easier to heat, and the short beds were because most people slept sitting up.

08-17-2009, 06:04 PM
The best data comes from measuring skeletons. To start with the medieval period, for which I have data readily to hand, here's the measurements of skeletons from medieval England:

St. Peter's Church, Barton-upon-Humber, England
Mean height for males: 1.69 (5'5)
Mean height for females: 1.61 (5'2)

Mean height for males: 1.70 (5'5)
Mean height for females: 1.59 (5'2)

Modern-day British:
Mean height for males: 1.76 (5'7)
Mean height for females: 1.62 (5'3)

From The Cemetery of St Nicholas Shambles (1988), by W.J. White:

Average height for a male (11-12th centuries): 1.72 (5'8)
Average height for a female (11-12th centuries): 1.58 (5'2)

From Death and Burial in Medieval England, 1066-1550 (1998) by Christopher Daniel:

Taunton, England
Male: (average height) 1.71cm (5'6)
Female: (average height) 1.56 (5'1)
Male: (shortest) 1.65 (5'4)
Female: (shortest) 1.46 (4'7)
Male: (tallest) 1.80 (5'9)
Female: (tallest) 1.71 (5'6)

From Medieval Towns (2003) by John Schofield and A. G. Vince:

St. Helen, York, England (10-16th centuries)
Male: (average height) 1.69 (5'6)
Female: (average height) 1.57 (5'2)

St. Mary's Priory, Thetford, England (12-13th centuries)
Male: (average height) 1.77 (5'9)
Female: (average height) no data

St. Leonard's, Kent, England (14-15th centuries)
Male: (average height) 1.70 (5'7)
Female: (average height) 1.57 (5'2)

08-17-2009, 06:37 PM
Modern day British mean height for males (presumably, male adults) is only 5'7"?

08-17-2009, 07:18 PM
Hmm, yes the "Adult Trend Tables 2007" spreadsheet on the NHS Health Survey For England page (http://www.ic.nhs.uk/statistics-and-data-collections/health-and-lifestyles-related-surveys/health-survey-for-england/health-survey-for-england-2007-latest-trends-[ns]) lists the average heights for men and women as 175.3 cm (5' 9.0") and 161.6 cm (5' 3.6") respectively.

08-17-2009, 07:25 PM
Yeah that looked, as a Brit walking the streets, funky to me as well. Quick googling gives slightly different values but 5' 10" seems the predominant estimate.

08-17-2009, 07:27 PM
Modern day British mean height for males (presumably, male adults) is only 5'7"?

It seems my data was out-dated by a bit. The Health Survey for England reports the following:

Mean height in cm by survey year (All male age groups from 16-75+)
1993: 174.4
2000: 174.4
2007: 175.3

Mean height in cm by survey year (All female age groups from 16-75+)
1993: 161.1
2000: 161.0
2007: 161.6

Mean height in cm by survey year (All adults)
1993: 167.3
2000: 167.1
2007: 168.3

08-17-2009, 07:40 PM
Ah. That's interesting that it's risen perceptibly from 2000 to 2007 (and from whenever your original data was from to then).

08-17-2009, 09:03 PM
Here's some data from Ireland's Children: Quality of life, stress, and child development in the Famine Era (1998) by Thomas E. Jordan. On page 138 Jordan discusses the height of men during the mid-19th century (1830s and 1840s).

French soldiers, 1848: 63 to 65 inches (5'3-5'5)
British soldiers, 1848: 65 to 69 inches (5'5-5'9) [Life Guards were all at least six feet tall; Jordan calculates their mean height as 73.02 inches (6'1)]

English soldiers, 1865 (a group of 25 traveling on the Clarence to India): mean height of 166.19 cm (5'4)
Scottish soldiers, 1865 (a group of 25 traveling on the Clarence to India): mean height of 169.19 cm (5'5)
Irish soldiers, 1865 (a group of 25 traveling on the Clarence to India): mean height of 167 cm (5'4)

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