How Big Were Romans’ Feet?

A bioarchaeologist proposes one method to answer that question

Roman Foot
Bernard Jaubert/incamerastock/Corbis

Archaeologists already have plenty of evidence as to what kinds of footwear were favored by ancient Romans. But how big were Romans' feet? 

When archaeologist Eric Poehler posed this question, bioarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove came up with a quick calcuation, on her blog Powered by Osteons. (Which also has answered other wonderful questions like "Where did Roman babies poop?")

From her previous research, Killgrove had measurements of the calcaneus—the heel bone—from Roman individuals buried in a cemetery just outside the city. After a bit of digging, she found a scientific paper from the 1950s that calculated the proportion of the heel bone to the total length of the foot. By combining that proportion with the data gathered from the cemetery, Killgrove estimated that “the average Roman male from Casal Bertone wore a US 8.5 / EU 42 shoe, and the average female a US 10 / EU 41 shoe.”

Killgrove said in her post that, while she thinks the male estimate seems right, the female estimate might be a bit off. Roman women were only about 5 feet 2 inches tall on average, and size 10 is quite large comparable to that stature. So, either Roman ladies had really big, outsized feet, or something's not quite right with the data.

Of course, one blog post isn’t meant to come up with academically rigorous conclusions—but it is a fascinating thought experiment, one that Killgrove thinks could be a great avenue of study for an enthusiastic graduate student.