Confirmed: Charlemagne was one tall fellow

Charlemagne_Equestrian_statue_9thC-202x300

Einhard, whose Vita Caroli we read in class, describes Charlemagne as

“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. His health was excellent, except during the four years preceding his death, when he was subject to frequent fevers; at the last he even limped a little with one foot.

We now know that Einhard’s description of Charlemagne’s height (at least) was accurate. As described in the Medieval Histories blog of January 30, 2014, researchers analyzing the bones contained Charlemagne’s shrine housed in Aachen cathedral have determined that “Charlemagne was 1.84 metres, which in a modern context (where everybody on average is higher) corresponds to a 1.95 metre. He must have towered over 98 out of a 100 persons in his time. Further they found, judging from relation between the length and the width of the tibula, that he must have been a slender and probably a gracile person, perhaps with a weight around 78 kg. As far as could be detected, he did not suffer from any serious illnesses. However, the team in 1988 found some calcification in his knee and in his heel, signs of old age. He might have limped in the end, something, which his first biographer told about him; also Thegan, who wrote about his final days mentioned his need to lean on the arm of his son during the coronation of the latter.”

Nice to know that you can sometimes count on the accuracy of your sources!

ps, When visiting Aachen and taking photos of the church, I illicitly touched the corner of what was then (1996) the newly restored shrine. From the pictures that I have seen, it is not enclosed behind glass, no doubt to keep tourist like me from destroying it touch-by-touch.

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About George Vascik, Historian

A 1988 graduate of the University of Michigan, I have taught history at Miami University since 1992. I maintain blogs on teaching Western Civilization and on Great War. My research focuses on anti-Semitism and rural politics in northwest Germany. I am completing a monograph for Bloomsbury Press, Anti-Semitism and Rural Politics. You can follow my project at http://peasantsandjews.org. Along with Mark Sadler, I have published a book of primary documents on the Stab-in-the-Back Myth (Dolchstoßlegende). http://www.dolchstosslegende.com. I also invite you to visit my profession web page at http://georgevascik.org.
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