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Conan

How tall was your average legionary?

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I've come across conflicting information...

 

On one hand I've heard that Roman legionaries where short of more than one person. Yet another has said there was a minimum height requirement of 5'10" to be a legionary.

 

Which is correct?

 

P.S. When I refer to Roman Legionary I mean ethnic Roman Italians.

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This is taken from De Re Militari by Flavius Vegetius Renatus

 

THEIR SIZE

 

We find the ancients very fond of procuring the tallest men they could for the service, since the standard for the cavalry of the wings and for the infantry of the first legionary cohorts was fixed at six feet, or at least five feet ten inches. These requirements might easily be kept up in those times when such numbers followed the profession of arms and before it was the fashion for the flower of Roman youth to devote themselves to the civil offices of state. But when necessity requires it, the height of a man is not to be regarded so much as his strength; and for this we have the authority of Homer, who tells us that the deficiency of stature in Tydeus was amply compensated by his vigor and courage.

 

SIGNS OF DESIRABLE QUALITIES

 

Those employed to superintend new levies should be particularly careful in examining the features of their faces, their eyes, and the make of their limbs, to enable them to form a true judgment and choose such as are most likely to prove good soldiers. For experience assures us that there are in men, as well as in horses and dogs, certain signs by which their virtues may be discovered. The young soldier, therefore, ought to have a lively eye, should carry his head erect, his chest should be broad, his shoulders muscular and brawny, his fingers long, his arms strong, his waist small, his shape easy, his legs and feet rather nervous than fleshy. When all these marks are found in a recruit, a little height may be dispensed with, since it is of much more importance that a soldier should be strong than tall.

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The problem with Vegetius is the translation from Latin to English, or more appropriately, Roman measurements to imperial English.

 

The original Latin of the quote that GPM provided above

V. Proceritatem tironum ad incommam scio semper exactam, ita ut VI pedum uel certe V et X unciarum inter alares equites uel in primis legionum cohortibus probarentur. Sed tunc erat amplior multitudo, et plures militiam sequebantur aramatam; necdum enim ciuilis pars florentiorem abducebat iuuentutem. Si ergo necessitas exigit, non tam staturae rationem conuenit habere quam uirium. (Et ipso Homero teste non fallitur, qui Tydeum minorem quidem corpore sed fortiroem armis fuisse significat.)

 

In Roman measurements... VI pedum (6 feet) is considerably smaller than 6 modern imperial feet. Therefore the same is true for V et X unciarum (5 and 10 parts of twelve). A Roman foot, or 12 inches (uncia), is the equivalent of about 11 1/2 modern inches. Reducing the ancient measurement by 1/2 inch for each of the 6 Roman feet described by Vegetius (1/2 inch x 6 feet is a total of 3 inches) we would get a measurement that was roughly equal to a 5 feet 7 inches minimum to 5 feet 9 inches standard... rather than the 5 feet 10 inches and 6 feet described as the standard height by Vegetius.

 

This is rather tall for the time as the average Roman height is considered to be about 5 1/2 feet, but its certainly within the realm of normal human development. Of course this is all dependent upon believing Vegetius in the first place. He is often criticized for a lack of military experience and knowledge, but one would not need those skills in order to know the general height of recruits.

 

Of course this only accounts for the later imperial era.

 

(This was modified by a post I made some time back in another thread)

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I noticed that Vegetius was referring to the men of the calvalry wings and the first cohort when he said they should be a minimum of 5'7" and average 5'9" (modern measurements). We must remember, however that the 1st cohort was the elite cohort of the legion, and it's obvious to see why calvalry would have an advantage in being tall. Could this mean that the other 9 cohorts and the auxiliaries would have a much more relaxed height standard?

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Could this mean that the other 9 cohorts and the auxiliaries would have a much more relaxed height standard?

 

Absolutely... Vegetius goes on to say...

But when necessity requires it, the height of a man is not to be regarded so much as his strength; and for this we have the authority of Homer, who tells us that the deficiency of stature in Tydeus was amply compensated by his vigor and courage.

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