There is no precise definition of the degree of height that qualifies a person to be termed a ‘giant.’ However the term is usually applied to persons whose height is beyond the upper 1% of the average population. Typically this means that persons at or above the 7 foot mark qualify. However, in recent years the term has been used solely to describe those individuals whose height is the result of a medical condition, like pituitary gigantism, and is not commonly used to describe genetically gifted individuals.
Giants have been around for millennia – and not just in mythology.
Perhaps the first written account of a true giant comes from the bible in the form of Goliath himself. Goliath was said to stand ‘taller than six cubits’ which equals about nine and a half feet. At first this seems a great exaggeration, and it very well may be, but one must realize that those with gigantism never stop growing. Robert Wadlow, the tallest man medically documented, stood nearly nine feet tall before his early demise at the age of twenty-two. Given a few more years, it is likely that he would have passed the nine and a half foot mark. Furthermore, early quasi-plausible records of men standing over nine feet are plentiful though questionable.
The great writer Pliny the Elder mentions in his Naturalis historia that in the reign of Claudius – A.D. 41-54 – a gigantic man standing over nine feet and named Gabbaras was brought to Rome from Arabia, the modern Middle East. Claudius immediately placed the giant at the head of his famed Adiutrix legions and the giant so amazed his follow troops that a cult of worship quickly sprung up around him.
Other credible accounts include the fact that in Sir John Soane’s Museum in London there resides and Egyptian sarcophagus crafted for a man over nine feet in height. Less credible accounts include Saint Christopher, a third century cannenite, was said to be a gigantic man as well. His height is often exaggerated to some 13 feet; however more conservative accounts credit him between seven and eight feet. Also there are several accounts, made by friends and enemies, that the Emperor Maximilian was close to eight feet in height.
The case of John Middleton is fairly well documented. Middleton (pictured above) was an English giant commonly known as the Childe of Hale. He lived in the village of Hale, near Liverpool between the years of 1578 and 1623. It was said that Middleton grew to a height of ‘Nine feet three’ – this is according to not only legends and tales of the man, but it is documented on his tombstone as well. Furthermore when Middleton visited King James I in 1620, serving as body guard to the sheriff of Lancashire – Sir Gilbert Ireland – a portrait was made of Middleton and his handprint was taken and still exists today– on display at a collage in Oxford.
Many giants lack the strength their form suggests, however Middleton and the men listed above seem to be exceptions. Middleton even beat the King’s champion in wrestling and received £20. Oddly enough, he was robbed while returning to Hale.
Lastly, another giant of impressive strength and size is one Mills Darden. Not only was Darden a giant, he also holds the distinction of being the largest documented human being to walk the earth. Standing at seven and six inches tall, Darden also weighed over 1000 pounds – between 1020 to 1080 during his lifetime. He was born on October 7, 1799, near Rich Square, North Carolina and was farmer and saloon owner. Mills Darden died on January 23, 1857 taking with him the reputation of being an incredibly powerful, though sensitive man. He refused newspaper interviews or to be photographed and as a result, no photograph exists of Mr. Darden.
image: a painting of John Middleton.