I once saw a mention (on cracked.com) that Napoleon, whom pretty much everyone believes was of very short stature, was actually close to average height for his time/demographics, and that the short height that is commonly ascribed to him was due to lack of standard measurement in Europe during his life.

Is there any plausible historical evidence to address this issue?

E.g., impartial textual or painting artifacts depicting his height (from sources who would have had no reason to distort it up or down); or better yet, biological reconstruction from skeletal remains; or some material artifacts that he owned (clothing/bed/weapons/etc.)?

3 Answers 3


According to this page which cites Steckel, Richard H. and Roderick Floud (eds.) "Health and Welfare during Industrialization." Chicago: University of Chicago (1997) as a source, the average height of a Frenchman between 1800 and 1820 was 164.1 cm.

According to the French historian, Marcel Dunan (1963):

"If one refers to the Memoirs of Marchand, t. II, 1955, p.338 "the total height of the crown to heel is 5 feet, 2 inches, 4 lines", or (French measures) 32.47 cm X 5 + 2.7 X 2 + 0.22 X 4 = 1m 68.6.

These measures have been taken by Antonmarchi helped by Marchand. For its part, the No. 8 (January 1963) Bulletin Quarterly information fields of French St. Helena, the Journal of Andrew Darling, English upholsterer who was responsible for taking exact measurements that I am assisted by General Montholon: size 5 feet, 7 inches, or (English measure): 30.47 cm X 5 + 2.54 X 7 = 1m 70.

From these two stories we can conclude that the size of Napoleon was not lower 1m 68.6"

Dr. Antommarchi did perform the autopsy on Napoleon. While an original source detailing Dunan's claims appears to be difficult to find, he is cited often in relation to Napoleon's history.

The confusion and misrepresentation of Napoleon's height can be attributed to a combination of the following:

  • Napoleon's height was stated to be 5'2 inches. The inches were French rather than British. When converted, it would have been equivalent to 5 feet and 7 British inches which is a respectable height.
  • Napoleon surrounded himself with tall bodyguards and had a nickname of le petit caporal. Non-Francophones mistakenly interpreted petit by its literal meaning of "small". In fact, it was an affectionate term that reflected his reported camaraderie with his soldiers rather than his height.
  • British propaganda, especially the caricatures by James Gillray built upon this by portraying Napoleon as short and temperamental, and the British as tall and clever.

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  • 1
    You should at least admit that it is more fun pretending he was smaller than 5'7".
    – user1973
    Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 23:23
  • 2
    Basically Napoleon was "short" compared to his BODYGUARD. But not compared to the general population.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 19:19
  • @coleopterist How tall was a the average German or Englishman at this time? Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 3:29

Napoleon was not short. It was only thought so because of the conversion between the different imperial inches-British v. French. It is worth mentioning though that at the beginning of the 18th century (Napoleon's generation) France was very poor and people starved. One of the side effects of starvation is malnutrition which led to a generation of short Frenchman. This may have contributed to the myth that Napoleon was short. All else has been wonderfully said by coleopterist

  • 2
    Napoleon was born in 1769, hardly the begining of the 18th century.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 10:25

I would imagine you would have to refer to the average height of the men who were around him...so in that context, say relative to his own or opposing Generals he might physically be seen as "short."

He was never an imposing figure like say Loius XIVth was. But he did have his trademark hat...and he could ride a horse too so in that sense "he was above you"...and if you were going up against him personally in Battle you would know it as Spain found out...and the English too.

And the Germans...and the Austrians...and Northern Italy...and the Egyptians...not the Russians so much...

  • 3
    This answer would be improved by sources/evidence of research.
    – MCW
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 8:11
  • "Le Tondu"? Sacre bleau! I mean seriously...if you're going to be surrounded by Hessian bodyguards we all would appear short. This does not require a lot of imagination. The French Painters always had to work around this problem...something they never really succeeded in doing. Commented May 18, 2016 at 8:19

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