Napoleon was actually average height.

  • Napoleon at St. Helena
Napoleon at St. Helena
Morphart Creation/ Shutterstock

Despite having an unfortunate complex named after him, Napoleon Bonaparte was of average height for his time. Some of the confusion about his stature stems from the nickname “le petit caporal,” which makes him sound “little” but was actually a term of endearment among his troops. There’s also the fact that inches were measured differently in 19th-century France than they are today. Back then, an inch was equivalent to 2.71 centimeters, whereas the current measurement is 2.54 centimeters. That explains why Napoleon was reported as being 5 feet, 2 inches tall when he died. Most estimates put him closer to 5 feet, 6 inches or 5 feet, 7 inches by today’s measurements — not exactly a towering figure, but average or slightly above average by 18th-century standards.

Little else about Napoleon’s life was average. A descendant of Italian nobility born on the island of Corsica, where his first language was not French but the local dialect, he came to be feared and respected in equal measure as the world’s foremost military strategist, and ascended to emperor of the French by the time he was 34 years old. He has been described as “the most competent human being who ever lived,” and his legacy remains complex to this day — especially in France, where his height is mentioned less often than his massive influence on reshaping the country.

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