How Tall Was Napoleon Bonaparte?

How tall was Napoleon? Napoleon Bonaparte was between 5’4’’ and 5’5” tall. Even in the early 19th century, that was considered a short height for a man and he was considerably shorter than his fellow army officers.

There can be no doubt that Napoléon Bonaparte is one of the key figures to have shaped modern Europe. Whether celebrated or despised, Napoleon is remembered for his extraordinary military and political career in France and the rest of Europe.

If you would like more about this “little big man”, his career, and the short-man complex named after him, you have come to the right place. In this article, we will explore Napoleon’s height and its significance both in culture and science.

Who Was Napoleon?

Napoleon di Bonaparte was born in the town of Ajaccio, on the Mediterranean island of Corsica on August 15, 1769. He died in Longwood, in the South Atlantic British island of Saint Helena on May 5, 1821, at the age of 51. He is buried at Les Invalides in Paris, France.

Image source: Wikipedia

He first became well-known as a military leader during the French Revolution (1789-1799). After the revolution, where he led several campaigns, he became a statesman with the title Emperor of the French as Napoleon I. That period lasted between 1804 and 1814 (and briefly again in 1815).

The battlefield is a scene of constant chaos. The winner will be the one who controls that chaos, both his own and the enemies. – Napoleon Bonaparte

He led France in the so-called Napoleonic Wars, which were a series of military campaigns designed to extend the French empire mainly across Europe, but also in the Atlantic Ocean, North America, parts of South America, the North Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean, the West Indies, and the Caucuses.

The French Empire fought against a coalition of European powers, often led by Britain and that included Hanover; the French Royalists; the Austrian Empire, which would later become a French client; Russia (also, later, a French client); Prussia (also, later, a French client); Sweden (also, later, a French client); The Spanish Empire (also, later, a French client); The Portuguese Empire; The Papal States; The Ottoman Empire (also, later, a French client); the Persian Empire (also, later, a French client); Sicily; Hungary; Bavaria; Wüttemberg; Saxony; Sardinia; United Netherlands; Brunswick; Tuscany; Nassau; Liechtenstein; and Montenegro. The Napoleonic wars lasted between 1803 and 1815.

His family was of Italian origin, and although they belong to Corsica’s minor nobility, they were quite modest.

Napoleon began his military career as an artillery officer but rose through the military ranks rapidly once the French Revolution erupted.

Image source: Wikipedia

Although, when people say “Napoleon” they mean Napoleon I, there have been two other notable Napoleons in French and European history. One is Napoléon François Charles Joseph Bonaparte, the son of Napoleon I, who was the disputed Emperor of the French as Napoleon II briefly between June 22, 1815, and July 7, 1815. Then, there is Charles-Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, nephew, and heir of Napoleon I, who was President of France between 1848 and 1852 as Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte and, then, Emperor of the French between 1852 and 1870 as Napoleon III.

The Significance of Napoleon’s Height

Going back to Napoleon I, you may be wondering why his height is important. Yes, it is true that being 5’4’’ or 5’6’’ he had the common height of a poor peasant rather than that of an army officer, but why should that have become an issue that is still discussed in the 21st century?

The answer is found in Napoleon’s foreign military and political rival Britain. Although the French Empire under Napoleon fought with many European states, those coalitions were mostly led by Britain.

As part of their strategy, the British encouraged the notion that Napoleon’s height had something to do with his imperialistic ambitions and also most likely came up with it. The notion was that Napoleon’s warring and conquering ambitions and his thirst for power were a direct consequence of his lack of height. The idea that still persists to this day is that his belligerence and power hunger were Napoleon’s way to compensate for his short stature. This was all part of the anti-Napoleon British propaganda. Napoleon was portraits as a puny little man in print and also artistic portraits not only during his life but also after his death.

The strong man is the one who is able to intercept at will the communication between the senses and the mind. – Napoleon Bonaparte

The British press of the time (early 19th century), in particular, liked to characterized Napoleon as a small man with a short-tempered.

In fairness to Napoleon, he probably projected the image of being short because he would have been seen in public accompanied by the Imperial Guards often, and the members of that body were usually extremely tall men.

Image source: Wikipedia

What Is the Napoleon Complex?

The idea of Napoleon as a small man with a short temper may have become part of Western folklore but it has become also something that scientists have looked into.

The supposed condition that alleges that short men (or short people but, usually, men in particular) can have a short temper and display more aggressive behavior than their taller counterparts is known as the Napoleon syndrome or the Napoleonic complex but, also, sometimes, as the Short man syndrome (or the short person syndrome).

Many people believe in this syndrome or complex. While some scientists dismiss it as a mere myth, others give it some credit and claimed to have found some evidence that supports it.

Whether Napoleon himself was a short-tempered and aggressive man because of its lack of height (if he indeed was personally aggressive, after all, he is not the only ambitious emperor in the history of the world), or whether men of less-than-average height are on average more aggressive than taller men is still up for discussion.

But one this is for sure and that is that Napoleon’s relatively short height was not only significant during his lifetime but also long after his death. There seems to be no indication that his height will stop being significant any time soon.

Juan Ramos

When people ask me why I write, I tell them that I do it so I can learn. The main reason I became a writer is my insatiable curiosity. My favorite part of writing is researching and learning about new topics.

I hold a BA in English Studies from the University of La Laguna and an MA in English literature from the Open University.

Cite this article as:
Juan Ramos. How Tall Was Napoleon Bonaparte?, Science Trends, 2018.
DOI: 10.31988/SciTrends.29262
*Note, DOIs are registered Friday weekly and therefore may not work until then.

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