Five feet, two inches tall –or was he?

Yes, but no.

Napoleon is believed by many to have been a shorty.  Perhaps so by today’s standards, but he was above average height for the period in which he lived.

During the Napoleonic wars, the British Tory press depicted Napoleon as shorter than average.  This perception took hold and persists to this day.  Napoleon complex is a supposed inferiority complex where short people compensate for lack of height with over-aggressive behavior.  The clichéd image of Napoleon in popular culture is of a comically short petty tyrant.


The misunderstanding over Napoleon’s height arose over the differences between the English and French systems of measurement.  The French Revolutionary government established the first legal basis for the metric system in 1795.  Implementation was poorly managed and the system was widely unpopular.

By imperial decree, in 1812, Napoleon instituted a revised system.  Under it, the pied (foot) was 1/3 metre, with 12 pouce (inches) in each pied.

While the French system of metre, pied and pounce were similar in concept to the English Imperial yard, foot and inch, the French units were actually 9.3% larger.

Under the 1812 French units, if Napoleon was about 5 pied (feet), 2 pouce (inches) in height, he would be just under 5 feet, 8 inches by the English system.  The average height of European men at the time was about 5 feet, 3 inches.

Perception misconception.


Comments on this entry are closed.

%d bloggers like this:

This site uses cookies for various nonintrusive purposes. See our Privacy Policy for how they are used. By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

This notice is a European Union requirement for sites with advertising or sales. The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.