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On a field trip to Philadelphia as a child I visited Betsy Ross' house. I was only 11 at the time and yet my head almost reached the ceiling. The tour guide said that Americans used to be shorter than they are now, and so their homes reflected this, with comparatively low ceilings. Did the Ancient Romans leave a record of the average height of men and women during any period (Republican, Imperial)?

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    Rather than records, the actual skeletal remains of Romans would probably be more telling. But that's anthropology, not history. FYI, it's not particularly different from modern Italians (until the last couple of generations, who are now taller) - AFAIK about 155-160cm for women and 165-170cm for men.
    – Semaphore
    Nov 13, 2014 at 6:36
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    @Semaphore no reason not to consider in-topic anthropology, it's not like it's going to get its SE site anyway…
    – o0'.
    Nov 13, 2014 at 9:34
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    I'd guess the house settled over time, myself. Most houses do, and the floor may have settled differently than the walls/ceiling/etc.
    – Joe
    Nov 13, 2014 at 15:03
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    Once when visiting a tall ship (sailing), the same thing was stated by the tour guides... "everyone needs to duck because people were shorter then ... (like 200 years earlier people were a full foot shorter.) :/
    – CGCampbell
    Nov 13, 2014 at 16:07
  • ([off topic] It also works for IQ: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_effect)
    – JinSnow
    May 27, 2021 at 15:21

3 Answers 3

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It was probably approximately 155cm for women, and about 168cm for men. We have direct evidence for this from analysing the skeletal remains of the Romans. For example, in a study [1] of 927 adult male Roman skeletons between 500 B.C. and A.D. 500, Professor Geoffrey Kron of the University of Victoria found an average of 168cm.

This is corroborated by remains found at the ancient towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii. Both cities were infamously destroyed by the A.D. 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius. A study of the remains left by their unfortunate Roman residents tell us that:

The major samples from Herculaneum and Pompeii reveal the stature of the ancient adult body. The average height for females was calculated from the data to have been 155 cm in Herculaneum and 154 cm in Pompeii: that for males was 169 cm in Herculaneum and 166 cm in Pompeii. This is somewhat higher than the average height of modern Neapolitans in the 1960s and about 10 cm shorter than the WHO recommendations for modern world populations.

- Laurence, Ray. "Health and the Life Course at Herculaneum and Pompeii." Health in Antiquity. Ed. Helen King. London: Routledge, 2005.

Notice how two neighbouring Roman communities nonetheless produced slightly different average heights. There will naturally be variations like this at different Roman settlements and at different time periods in Rome's lengthy history. Moreover, height can also be affected by diet, and thus there would probably have been some differences between different classes or groups of Romans, too.


We do also have some historical evidence, particularly from the height measurements of Roman soldiers. Soldiers probably would have been higher than civilians in general, though the results do seems generally in line with the skeletal remains:

Imperial regulations, though not entirely unambiguous, suggest that the minimum height for new recruits was five Roman feet, seven inches (165 cm., 5'5") ... for the army as a whole a reasonable estimate of a soldier's average height is around 170 cm (5'7").

- Roth, Jonathan, and Jonathan P. Roth. The Logistics of the Roman Army at War: 264 BC-AD 235. Columbia studies in the classical tradition, Vol. 23. Brill, 1999.


[1]: Kron, Geoffrey. "Anthropometry, physical anthropology, and the reconstruction of ancient health, nutrition, and living standards." Historia: Zeitschrift fur Alte Geschichte (2005): 68-83.

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    The WHO has recommendations about how tall people should be?!? Nov 13, 2014 at 12:16
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    @DavidRicherby expected heights fall out of maintaining enough nourishment prior to adulthood to prevent stunted growth. Nov 13, 2014 at 14:09
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    @DavidRicherby: And that pinball wizard needed the extra inches to play such a mean game. Nov 14, 2014 at 23:23
  • @Semaphore It's old stuff, but i feel urged to point out: Body height (length of long bones) is a variable, depending on nutrition. An average can hardly be given for a long lasting and geographically widepsread conglomerate of peoples like "Romans". As such, the answer is inexact because it draws a general conclusion from a single sample which is correct only in its context. "Romans" existed >1000 years and from northern Africa to western Asia. The picture will variy greatly.
    – user43870
    Jun 18, 2020 at 10:38
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    @a_donda Yes, the historical record is often inexact. Nonetheless, the available evidence allows us to offer a rough estimation.
    – Semaphore
    Jun 18, 2020 at 16:33
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The average height was between 5' and 5.5 ft tall based on skeletal remains and written history. Eastern Rome (Constantine's Post Italian Rome) was 5'4"-5'7" The original Roman had a wheat bread based diet, lack of protein kept heights low. Reasons: Land was over-hunted. The Mediterranean was not a good source of fish and most would say it never was. It's not known for larger fish and the reasons are due to: shallow waters and overfishing in the early times so proteins from fish was almost non existent. In fact fish was actually a rare delight, a delicacy. It was expensive and only the rich could eat it with any regularity. Meats from other sources were generally eaten only at festivals and religious holidays. Lack of quality nutrition in diets led to the low height but did not take away from the individual's strength and endurance as proven by the Roman soldiers. The height may have been 5'4" tall but the weight was 170 to 190 lbs with very little fat. In other words small muscular men. I'm not sure how the women fared since I study mostly military history.

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    References to sources would improve this answer. Sep 3, 2016 at 19:03
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    Follow, you seem to voice misconceptions on the differences between vegetarian and carnivore diets. I believe it's well accepted that vegetarian diets can provide adequate diets for the human body. A case in point are the Sikhs of the Punjab, who are vegetarian yet famous for their physical bulk. In fact the Indian Army often put Sikhs up front in order to intimidate enemies. The only deficiency might involve Vitamin B12, but I don't think that has a bearing on the protein available with an adequate vegetarian diet containing legumes.
    – ttonon
    Jul 21, 2021 at 22:03
  • @ttonon - Not only carnivore diet, but diet as such should not be necessarily correlated with height, be it that of the Sikhs or Romans. Romans were relatively short and ate relatively well, therefore genetics must be a more important factor than diet. The same can be true for the Sikh.
    – cipricus
    Apr 30, 2023 at 18:49
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Most Romans were not short. There diet was outstanding, especially the soldiers of highest order. Soldiers needed to be fed well and maintained in order to fight well in battle and carry the vast amount of equipment during campaigns and training.

Some elite soldiers had height restrictions of a minimum of 5'8"+.

Most Roman soldiers were well nourished, and had many of traits that other people did not have, such as thick wrists and ankles, naturally muscular, high IQ, natural talented fighters, discipline and obedience and much more.

No idea where some people think the Romans were short. The average Roman was no smaller than the average American, which is 5'9".

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    – Community Bot
    Apr 29, 2023 at 18:53
  • Don't you try to undermine my conviction that I'm a tall Roman (well, Romanian...) with my height of 170 cm! - No idea where some people think the Romans were short. - You mean: why - We have their bones. (Meaning by "Romans" peoples of Latium and other Italian regions of early conquest, not Gauls and such). They were "shorter" only relatively to some modern peoples (like some North Americans and many North Europeans) of which we also have bones - as well as living specimens.
    – cipricus
    Apr 30, 2023 at 18:33
  • Since Romans ate relatively well and they were relatively short, we can say that genes rather than diet is a more significant factor. Diet seems to explain the rather sudden and very recent increase in general height, but extrapolating to antiquity is dubious.
    – cipricus
    Apr 30, 2023 at 18:42
  • I'm the originator of this post. Your answer isn't supported with any facts. The answer that the average height of Ancient Romans was between 5' and 5.5' tall has been answered by other responders, and it can be proven based on dug up skeletal remains. The Northern European "barbarians" were described by contemporary Roman writers as significantly taller than the Romans.
    – whitewings
    May 22, 2023 at 10:58
  • To the originator, everything you say isn't supported with any facts. The barbarians and even vikings were considered tall if they were 5"9 there's proof of this. Granted there was some romans soldiers of 5'5, not many, most were naturally muscular with broad shoulders, thick wrists and ankle's, there were many above 5"8. The romans were a world superpower of there time, they had the knowledge and knowhow on what was good and what wasn't good for them, they were well nourished and had plenty of vitamins that they needed. They needed to be healthy and fit for battle, and they didn't lose many. May 26, 2023 at 7:03

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