Have you ever heard somebody refer to medieval people as much shorter than modern-day people? I certainly have a lot. And that got me thinking. How tall were people in the Middle Ages on average? And was there a height difference between knights and peasants?
Medieval Peasants were on average 168-170cm (5`6.14 to 5`6.93 ft) tall. Due to better nutrition during childhood, knights were a little bit bigger at an average height of 172-174 cm (5`7.72 to 5`8.5 ft), a wiry build, and an average bodyweight of around 143 lb (65 kg). Today the average height of a US-American is 5`9 ft (175 cm).
So let`s take a closer look and also look at how tall Vikings were in the Early Middle Ages.
But before we go in I would like to emphasize that an average height of 5`7.72 to 5`8.5 ft (for a medieval knight) does not mean that there were no shorter or taller people. Quite the opposite. I think one could make the case that in the Middle Ages (and in Antiquity) the variety in height was greater than today. More on the reasons behind that case in my article here.
But let`s now get started!
When we look at the average height of people in the Middle Ages then we have to acknowledge that nutrition, especially during childhood and youth, is critical for how tall a person grows. So people who experienced famines during their childhood and were affected by malnourishment, as a result, are usually shorter, not only in the Middle Ages but throughout history and until today.
And there we already have the reason for why medieval peasants were on average a little shorter than medieval knights and other members of the nobility. While not every medieval peasant was dirt poor, more on that here, and not every knight was living splendidly we can still say that knights and members of nobility usually were less affected by famines and bad harvests than peasants.
The reason why medieval peasants were on average a little shorter (168-170cm (5`6.14 to 5`6.93 ft)) compared to the average height of knights (172-174 cm (5`7.72 to 5`8.5 ft)) can be found in the fact that the children of noble families (including knights) were usually better nourished and suffered less under famines.
By the way, that difference in the height of medieval knights and peasants has also found its way into medieval literature and poetry. There the sign of noble women is usually their very white skin (indicating that they are not working outside the house) while the body, especially the height, is often mentioned as the identification mark of knights and noblemen.
But how does that height compare to the height of the legendary Vikings?
Viking men, who were also people of the (Early) Middle Ages, were on average 172 cm (5`7.72 ft) tall. Just like knights, Vikings were probably also of wiry build instead of the brawny stature that is often portrayed in movies.
That should also clear up the myth that the Vikings were these huge men towering over their Western European victims. Indeed it seems likely that Viking men were on average a little (1-1,5 in) taller than medieval peasants and about as tall as medieval knights. For more information on the Vikings and how many warriors a Viking Longship could hold I would like to recommend you my article here.
Ok, so knights were on average about as tall as Vikings. But how do they compare to modern men?
At an average height of 172-174 cm (5`7.72 to 5`8.5 ft), a medieval knight or Viking was only a little shorter than the average US-American, Candian, or Brit who is on average 5`9 ft (175 cm) tall.
Ok, so the myth that people in the Middle Ages were much smaller than modern-day people is wrong. And while people today are on average a little (but not a lot) taller than medieval people there was a time after the end of the Middle Ages when the average height declined.
After the end of the Middle Ages during the Early Modern Period, the average height did indeed decline. The reasons for that can be found in the worse nutrition and more unhygienic living conditions (both side effects of urbanization and the beginning of industrialization).
But how did the average height of medieval people compare to the height of an average Roman? And did the Roman military have height requirements? Here you can find my article with the answers to these questions!
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time