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Old 4th July 2010, 12:39 PM   #1
ariel
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Default How tall were medieval knights?

There is a discussion on another forum, and I have no answer.
From my visits to the museums, most suits of armor seem to be made for pretty short people.
I am sure there is very good information about that. Can somebody provide info re. how tall suits of armor are in reality and an approx. distribution of heights?
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Old 4th July 2010, 01:19 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by ariel
There is a discussion on another forum, and I have no answer.
From my visits to the museums, most suits of armor seem to be made for pretty short people.
I am sure there is very good information about that. Can somebody provide info re. how tall suits of armor are in reality and an approx. distribution of heights?


Reminds me of the Brave heart line when they are talking of making spears twice as long as men for use against the heavy cavalry 'Some men are longer than others'

With out digging too deep, it can be seen across many countries that people where shorter in the day, heck look at the Italians or if it just the inlaws at my place that give me this impression...

Have a look here, page 5 shows a good graph;

http://www.meteohistory.org/2005his...oepke_baten.pdf

Your visual notations in the museums should be guide enough to share in some detail. The kind of info in the graph supports what it is you already see first hand.

Perhaps the very weight of armour over the years kept them short

Gav

Last edited by freebooter : 4th July 2010 at 01:39 PM.
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Old 4th July 2010, 01:45 PM   #3
Martin Lubojacky
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Armour im museums realy seems to be made for short people. On the other side, excavated scelletons of so called Great Moravia soldiers were allegedly nearly 2 meters tall
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Old 4th July 2010, 07:38 PM   #4
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henry the eighth was over 6 ft. i hear that king edward of braveheart fame was also. H8's armour is HUGE.

roman legions had a 5 ft. 8 in. minimum (originally 5' 10", but dropped their standards later on)

read somewhere that the middle ages human would still be on our modern gaussian bell curve tho a bit towards the lower end rather than the mean.

a couple of the other sword forums have similar tho inconclusive discussions:

an excerpt from the metropolitan museum of art Arms and Armor—Common Misconceptions and Frequently Asked Questions

Quote:
13. The size of armor indicates that people in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance were smaller.—In general, true.
Medical and anthropological research demonstrates that the average height of men and women has gradually increased over the centuries, a process that, for reasons of progressively better diet and public health, has accelerated during the past 150 years or so. The majority of surviving armors from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries appear to confirm these findings.

However, when trying to affirm such generalizations from armor, a number of factors need to be carefully considered. First, is the armor complete and homogeneous (i.e., do all parts belong together), thereby giving an accurate impression of the height of the original wearer? Second, even a high-quality armor, made to measure for a particular owner, can provide only an estimate of its former wearer's height with a margin of at least an inch or two (2–5 cm), since the overlap of the protections for lower abdomen (skirt and tassets) and thighs (cuisses) can only be approximated.

Indeed, armor comes in all shapes and sizes, such as armor for children or young men (as opposed to that for adults), and there are even armors made for dwarfs and giants (often found at European courts as "curiosities"). Moreover, then as now, other general factors have to be taken into account, such as differences in average body height between northern and southern Europeans for example, or the simple fact that there have always been people who were exceptionally tall or short when compared to their average contemporary.

Among the famous exceptions are royal examples such as Francis I, king of France (r. 1515–47), or Henry VIII, king of England (r. 1509–47). The latter's height of about 6 feet (180 cm) was commented upon by his contemporaries, and can be verified by the more than half-dozen of his armors surviving today (two of them in the Metropolitan Museum).

For an interesting contrast in the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Arms and Armor, compare the (composite) German harness of about 1530 and the field armor attributed to Emperor Ferdinand I (1503–1564), of about 1555 (33.164). Neither armor is complete, and the sizes of the former owners are necessarily broad estimates, yet the differences in size and stature are remarkable: while the owner of the first armor was probably around 6 feet 4 inches (ca. 193 cm) tall, with his chest measuring about 54 inches (137 cm) in circumference, the owner of the latter harness, probably Emperor Ferdinand, does not appear to have measured more than about 5 feet 7 inches (170 cm) in height.

Last edited by kronckew : 4th July 2010 at 08:07 PM.
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Old 4th July 2010, 11:02 PM   #5
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Most precious information contained in the links provided by Gav and Wayne.
Thanks for sharing.
I too beleive our ancestors were in average short guys, exception given to some well fed (?) nobility individuals and the traditional exuberation about our heroes, kings and so.
It is popularily spread that the sword of Dom Afonso Henriques (Portugal founding king) was so heavy that a common man could not bear it, but such sword never showed up and the king wasn't proven to be bigger than an average person.
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Old 5th July 2010, 04:18 AM   #6
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The same appears to apply to Victorian era military uniforms. Most that I have seen will not fit the average person of today, so the comment above that states that stature has increased during the 20th and 21st centuries in my experience is largely correct. I assume that when we are talking of armor here, that we are talking (mainly) about English and western European suits?
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Old 5th July 2010, 04:41 AM   #7
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i've also read somewhere that the smaller stature of the 19th c. was a bit of a dip in the height stats due to avg. diet/environment being poor. i had my dad's navy uniform top from ww2 when i was younger, and could no longer fit it after i was about 15 and i was fairly small for my age then compared to others.

my university fencing teacher in the late 60's was a 5 ft. 4 in. hungarian ex cavalry colonel who was probably the fittest and meanest person to cross i've met. at the time he was about 70, and walked with a cane. not because he needed one, but because the NYC police objected to him carrying a sword. he got almost-mugged once. i hear the perpetrators only took two weeks to get out of hospital. the colonel must have been in a good mood.
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Old 8th July 2010, 10:08 PM   #8
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Maybe knights where like the jockeys in horseracing
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Old 9th July 2010, 02:15 AM   #9
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Filipinos and Moros of the same time period were also short. They still are if they come from there today. I am too tall and American/Native American build to fit into my Moro armour. I am taller than my Filipino father.
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Old 9th July 2010, 02:30 AM   #10
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Remember that we're seeing the armor that survived, not necessarily the armor the *used.*

We're also talking about museums, which have limited space and (hopefully) a wide, physically diverse audience. Unless there's a historical reason to show a big suit (for example, one from Henry VIII), I'd show a smaller suit. There's more room for other stuff around it, and more people can see more of it.

My microtuppence,

F
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Old 15th July 2010, 06:26 PM   #11
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A fair amount of European armour in museums is not displayed " properly ". By that I mean that it is simply on a stand to prop it up, not on a stand of the same dimensions as the original wearer for whom it was built so this tends to give a distorted view of height when looking at possed suits in museums. Diet had a great deal to do with height then as now. The upper classes ate much better than the lower classes and thus suffered much less from a wide array of issued induced by continuos poor diet including height. The upper classes were by and large on par with heights today, while the lower classes suffered somewhat in height as well as other issues produced by poor or limited diet. That being said weight in general or at least body mass seems to have been a bit lower if the sizes of surviving pieces are any indicator. I have owned several breast plates over the years that are of the correct height for some one of my height ( bottom edge of the breast plate at the height of the lowest rib of the rib cage ) but were very tight in the upper chest. Another feature that comes to light on many 15th and 16th century fine armours is that the calfs are very thin ( this being determined by the dimensions of the greaves ), something that would seem to not make sense given that some level of military service/training would be part of the users lifestyle. One explaination i've heard for this is the idea that this level of society seldom walked but rather road everywhere. A fair portion of the world today owns cars and drives most places, so one would expect to see the same result in modern humans but this does not seem to necessarily be the case so I find the above explaination suspect.
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Old 15th July 2010, 07:18 PM   #12
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For the calves, I wonder if they are thin because they are being held on it part by the springiness of the metal, as opposed to slapping around as the wearer walked.

Not sure about the small chest thing, though. You'd think, given the mucking great weapons they were swinging, they would have rather large chests.

Fun stuff!

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Old 16th July 2010, 12:40 AM   #13
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When I was just a lad of 10 or 11, growing up in the old USSR, I visited the Lenin Museum in Ulyanovsk. Exhibited was the coat that Lenin wore when he was shot [poorly] by Fanni Kaplan. Even then it struck me how tiny it was. Man was a midget.
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Old 17th July 2010, 03:54 PM   #14
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Quote:
For the calves, I wonder if they are thin because they are being held on it part by the springiness of the metal, as opposed to slapping around as the wearer walked.


Having seen a number of these greaves up close, they're really thin. I've made a fair number of them over the years and one thing that has to be taken into account when building them is that the calf cannot be an absolute contour of the wearers calf when standing since in a full crouch the calf expands considerably out to either side due to downward presure/compression from the thigh above and the greave must allow room for this. That being said the period greaves from fine harness i've seen are still very slim, often seemingly slightly abnormally so.


Quote:
You'd think, given the mucking great weapons they were swinging, they would have rather large chests.


Based on the original weapons i've owned over the years weight is not an overidding factor. They've been quite light and user friendly, most swords comming in at the 1.75 to 2.75 pound range. I visited with Lee Jones this past weekend and he was kind enough to let me handle an excellent munitions zweihander he owns which I suspect came in at the 4.5 pound range but was still easilly controlable in the single hand. I swing hammer for a living making armour and it has manifested inteself not in my chest but in my arms, specifically my right arm which is noticibly bigger than my left. I suspect that weapons practice would have yielded a fit individual rather than a big one but this is of course nothing more than my supposition.
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Old 20th July 2010, 12:10 PM   #15
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As has been noted, diet and lifestyle overall had (and still have) a lot to do with stature; this was also true of disease; serious illness was liable to have much more pronounced effects on human bodies in an era with little medical knowledge and almost no provision of useful medical care for the afflicted. One recalls, to echo the sentiment of kahnjar1, the grim revelation that, during the 2nd Boer War, recruits from Manchester - then probably the most industrialised city in the world, and almost all of it dedicated to the support of the cotton manufacturing trade - were the shortest, sickliest men available to the British Army; the rejection rate was exceptionally high, and I seem to remember figures as high as 90% being mentioned. These men tended to suffer from any number of maladies, including malnutrition, rickets, bisinosis, black lung... the list goes on and on. All of them endured poor diets, damaging housing and atrocious working conditions.

Even the upper classes, despite their generally superior lifestyle, were not immune. To take another 19th-Century example, Capt. Lawrence Oates (of Scott fame), whose mess waistcoat is preserved in our collection, really must have been rather lacking in stature. That garment would hardly fit me, and I'm not exactly hefty.

As an aside, a friend of mine who has been working out incessantly since he was around 15 (and is an accomplished martial artist, and all round great bloke to boot) is, despite his good diet etc, around 5ft 9in. His brother is around 6ft 1in, having not been quite such a fitness fanatic. Perhaps constant hard exercise, especially in the important youthful growth period, stunts one somewhat.
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Old 20th July 2010, 02:38 PM   #16
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Thanks for the information on the greaves. Oddly, I'm still a bit puzzled about the chest, but whatever. I guess core muscles and shoulders do the job.

As for hard work stunting a body, I can make the opposite case. I'm rather large, and I've always had trouble doing martial arts things that smaller people could do easily. What was getting me was the square-cube proportionality law. My wrists and ankles (and other major joints) aren't a lot larger than those of someone who is a foot shorter than I am (the square: joint surface area), but I weigh a lot more (the cube: weight). As a result, I stress my joints a lot harder when I move than does someone who is shorter and lighter.

That's why a gymnast throwing a couple of flips isn't nearly as impressive as a football player doing the same move. The gymnast isn't as close to blowing her joints as the big guy is. I've seen some (ex)football players do some pretty impressive moves given their size, and they have my respect.

Does working hard stunt growth? Probably. But at the same time, a smaller person may be more comfortable with the moves of a martial artist, causing them to stick with the practice where someone who is bigger has to endure more stress injuries.

My tuppence,

F

edit P.S.: I mean American football, not real football.

Last edited by fearn : 21st July 2010 at 04:23 AM.
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Old 20th July 2010, 09:20 PM   #17
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id heard that the norse and swedes of the viking age were decently purportioned fellows
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Old 21st July 2010, 12:05 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pallas
... I heard that the norse and swedes of the viking age were decently porportioned fellows ...

Going a bit backwards, the Lusitanians, probably the most typical pre-Roman warrior race group who inhabited part of what would be Portugal, were rather thick and small.
On the other hand Germans were consensualy rather tall ... eventually much taller than Romans.
Can't it be assumed that, the variable height of individuals, departs from the relative pattern of the different peoples/races stature?
That is, besides the fact that a good diet and heavy training strenghtens and stretches limbs and even body dimensions, a well fed and exhaustively trained nobleman from Lusitanian origins produces a knight not so tall as a German could be.
... Generaly speaking .
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Old 21st July 2010, 06:00 AM   #19
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I don't know if I can add anything valuable here... but here goes...

from what I know, a large factor is both the traits one is born with, and diet/lifestyle

Take for example the frontier of 1500-1800 Taiwan. The Han (Chinese) settlers were generally short, lean, tough folks. It was the "Wild Wild East" and the settlers were often pirates, farmers, or fighters. Violence was common place. But the lifestyle of the Chinese at that time was full of hardship. Unsanitary, crowded towns encouraged diseases. Lean, sometimes protein-deficient, diets caused many to be shorter or skinnier than they could be. The social structure made it so that most did not have access to quality nutrition even if the capability of creating it was there. Lots of arable land was used to make rice, tea, sugarcane, etc., much of it for export. Families had as many children as they could afford to raise, a common trend in farming families.

The aboriginal people of the Taiwanese plains (Ping Pu) were said to be taller, athletic, and well-built. They married later in life and had fewer children. Headhunting was common and in some groups one had to bring back an enemy head before being allowed to marry or receive tattoos which signified bravery and manhood. They had slash-and-burn agriculture of sustenance and hunted deer. Until severe marginalization by Han settlers, they ate pretty good. They generally had smaller populations, but had happier and healthier lives. However, look at the Taiwanese aborigines of the mountains. Here descriptions change. They are still described as athletic, well-built men... but they are shorter. Game is a bit less plentiful in the mountainous jungles and agriculture was harder in some areas with their level of agricultural technology.

If Taiwanese aborigines, Filipinos, Indonesians, etc. all come from the Austronesian gene pool... why are some short and others tall? Pingpu were taller... and Samoans have the stereotype of having a lot of muscular potential. Yet Filipinos and Indonesians are said to be shorter... I think not only do natural traits have to do with it, but diet and lifestyle do as well.

Parallels can be seen in Native America where the Peruvians in the Andes were said to be a shorter people... the Aztecs too were short people (intensely agricultural and under strict hierarchy). However the Iroquois/Haudensosaunee were said to have been somewhat tall and athletic. Some colonists compared them to Spartans. They had a mix of hunting/gathering and agriculture for food production. They lived in smaller numbers than the city-building Aztecs and Incas... but thanks to settled agriculture they had larger populations than their Algonquin rivals (who later adopted it).

And take the Celts of Europe for instance. They were said to have been tall men. Romans and Greeks described them as animal-like barbarians. Archeological and textual evidence points to the possibility that Celts were the fathers of several military inventions as well as pants and soap. They did not live in as dense cities as Romans and Greeks, had a hierarchy, but not one that prevented the commoner from being able to procure some protein. (As far as we know.) BUT BUT BUT... I remember reading that some of the Celts in the Alpine mountains had less access to certain important nutritions. Therefore many of them were shorter and malnourished than their other Celtic cousins. That didn't stop the Boii and the Helvetti from being fearsome warriors back in day....

I am Taiwanese but born in America. Despite having a light build, I am 5'10". In the USA, it's nothing to brag about. But 177.8 cm in Taiwan is decent height.
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Old 23rd March 2014, 04:10 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kronckew
my university fencing teacher in the late 60's was a 5 ft. 4 in. hungarian ex cavalry colonel who was probably the fittest and meanest person to cross i've met. at the time he was about 70, and walked with a cane. not because he needed one, but because the NYC police objected to him carrying a sword. he got almost-mugged once. i hear the perpetrators only took two weeks to get out of hospital. the colonel must have been in a good mood.

Hullo everybody!
My apologies. Nothing to do with the topic at hand.
I just happened to browse through and came across the above statement, which aroused my curiosity (being a skeptic of 'coincidence').
The teacher's name didn't happen to be Joseph did it?
Once again, my apologies for being off-topic.
Best,
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Old 23rd March 2014, 04:40 AM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Amuk Murugul
Hullo everybody!
My apologies. Nothing to do with the topic at hand.
I just happened to browse through and came across the above statement, which aroused my curiosity (being a skeptic of 'coincidence').
The teacher's name didn't happen to be Joseph did it?
Once again, my apologies for being off-topic.
Best,


No, his name was Bela (de) Csajaghy. (see cc. my 1968 NYSMC yearbook page attached) i think he also coached at a few other places in NYC (like NYU woman's team) around that time. our team member, ira, that wrote the article was not known for his name spelling skills
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