July 18, 2014

How long was the average Roman stride?

Eric Poehler (@Pompeiana79) posed this question on Twitter this morning. Katy Meyers (@BonesDoNotLie) and Keith Chan (@ChekeiChan) commented that there are formulae to estimate stride based on height. The forensic articles I found were actually going in the reverse -- from footfalls/strides to height (which makes sense if you want to find a murder, for example).  Keith suggested exercise medicine articles, and the most often-quoted article, Hatano, Y. "Use of the pedometer for promoting daily walking exercise." International Council for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation 29.4 (1993): 4-8., suggests two factors for calculating average step length: .415 for males and .413 for females (times height in centimeters).  Note that this is step length not stride; in exercise research, step length is the distance from, say, the left heel to the right heel (or left toe to right toe), whereas stride is the distance between the heel of the left foot to the heel of the left foot (two steps).

So using stature data from my dissertation, I calculated that the average Imperial Roman male (from Casal Bertone, 2km east of the walls of Rome) who stood 166.6cm would have a step length of 69.1cm, which means a stride length of roughly 140cm. Females in the population stood on average 156.7cm, so that's 64.7cm step length and 130cm stride length. There is plenty more stature data in my diss if y'all want to do more calculations, of course!

If I were to go full-on XKCD What If?, I'd look not only into the differences in stature among the Roman population (again, see my dissertation), but also into foot size from both foot bones and from the ginormous shoe cache at Vindolanda to refine the estimate. But I didn't measure any Roman foot bones at any of the sites I've worked at, and most of this research and writing was done on my phone during the 20 minutes my 9-month-old napped on me this morning.  Checking the Vindolanda research and looking into Troy Case's work with the bones of the feet are good avenues to go in.

And, of course, as the Rogue Classicist (@RogueClassicist) points out, all of this is largely theoretical anyway because people would have been wearing different things.  That is, the stride factors above are probably for modern Americans in comfy workout clothes, not for Imperial Romans wearing stiff togas or heavy armor.

But this is just another example of the fun of Twitter.  Just like with my "Where did Roman babies poop?" question a few weeks ago, we collectively had a random research question asked and partly answered, with lots of follow-up and collaborative potential!

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