In 3rd-century Rome, giants roamed the earth… okay, maybe not, but at least one of them did! An archaeological excavation back in 1991 at an ancient Roman necropolis revealed the skeleton of a giant man, but it’s only recently that the bones were studied in any depth.
Found inside an abnormally long tomb, the man’s height measured 6 feet, 8 inches (202cm)—which would have been gigantic in ancient Rome, where the typical man averaged about 5.5 feet (167cm). For comparison, it’s worth noting that the modern-day “tallest man” is 8 feet, 3 inches high (251 cm).
But at 6 feet, 8 inches, this man would have been a giant to the people of ancient Rome, and researchers suspect that the individual had a While there have been two other ancient skeletons found in the past that have been suspected of the condition (in Poland and Egypt), the Roman skeleton is the first clearly identifiable case from ancient times, making its contribution to the historical record quite significant.
In order to learn whether this citizen of ancient Rome actually had gigantism, the study team looked at the bones and skull of the specimen. They found skull damage that’s known to be consistent with pituitary tumors (which disrupt the pituitary gland) that in turn cause the overproduction of HGH (human growth hormone). That, along with limb length and evidence of bone growth into adulthood, confirmed the gigantism diagnosis.
It’s also thought that this individual lived a short life, dying between 16-20 years old—not an uncommon occurrence for human “giants”, who struggle with respiratory issues and cardiovascular stresses. However, the exact cause of death is unknown, so researchers and archaeologists can only speculate.
Notably, the giant wasn’t buried with any funerary items, though the burial itself was typical of the period—so whoever he was, he seems to have been accepted as a member of society, though whether this came out of simple curiosity for his condition or as a normal human being, is another question entirely.
(IMG credit: Photograph by Simona Minozzi, Endocrine Society)