Study: Charlemagne was very tall, but not robust


According to a recently published study, the Carolingian Emperor Charlemagne (ca. 747–814) was taller than most of his subjects, but not overweight. The findings were reported in the July 2010 issue of Economics & Human Biology.

A trio of scholars from Switzerland, Germany and Australia were allowed special access to the left tibia of Charlemagne, whose remains are kept in the Aachen Cathedral. Using x-rays and CT Scans, they found that the bone was about 17 inches long. According to various estimating methods, this meant that Charlemagne’s height was somewhere between 1.79 and 1.92 meters tall (between 5′ 10″ and 6′ 4″). According to other research, a typical male in the Carolingian period stood about 1.69 meters (5′ 6″).

Meanwhile, the researchers also discovered the leg bone was not robust, and estimate that Charlemagne weighed 78 kilograms (172 pounds). They conclude, “it is evident that the physical appearance of Charlemagne was highly notable for the Middle Ages and thus it may have contributed to his socio-political achievements, since tall stature is – even nowadays – well correlated with decreased mortality and morbidity and increased individual socio-economic success.”

The only contemporary description of Charlemagne comes his friend and courtier Einhard, who states he “was large and strong, and of lofty stature, though not disproportionately tall (his height is well known to have been seven times the length of his foot); the upper part of his head was round, his eyes very large and animated, nose a little long, hair fair, and face laughing and merry. Thus his appearance was always stately and dignified, whether he was standing or sitting; although his neck was thick and somewhat short, and his belly rather prominent; but the symmetry of the rest of his body concealed these defects. His gait was firm, his whole carriage manly, and his voice clear, but not so strong as his size led one to expect.”

The article, “Charlemagne was very tall, but not robust,” by Frank J. Rühlia, Bernhard Blümich and Maciej Henneberg, appears in Economics & Human Biology, Volume 8, Issue 2, July 2010.

Source: Economics & Human Biology

Sharan Newman