Foot Shape Ancestry: Can Types of Feet Reveal Your Origins?

Can a type of foot reveal your genealogy and ancestry? In this article, we will explore the different types of feet and how they might be linked your ancestry.

Physical genetic traits are an interesting phenomenon and often a source of interest within immediate families and their closer extended families. Quirks such as the ability to roll our tongue are often something that is a family trait as can be nose shape or even a smile.

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In our more recent family history we may be told we resemble a grandparent or come across a picture of a great grandparent who shares our smile or eyes. What about the more ancient traits? Can we really tell which ancient peoples we descend from, using a physical trait?

The answer to this question is likely not, however in the 19th century and still somewhat today there was a belief that the shape of our feet could be key to our ancient origins. Known as “foot and toe ancestry” this theory postulates that the shape of feet may fall into one of five different ancient peoples.

  • Egyptian
  • Roman
  • Greek
  • German
  • Celtic
Foot Shape Ancestry
Examples of the most common foot shapes of ancient peoples

Egyptians Foot Shape Ancestry

The Egyptian Empire ruled much of North Africa for 30 centuries between 3100 BC until around 332 BC. Arising around the so-called fertile crescent, it was a prosperous and prolific society. Marvels of building technology that still stand today bear testament to this once powerful empire.

According to the foot shape theory the layout of the Egyptian foot saw a long big toe with each consecutive digit becoming shorter. This elegant decline in length at almost a 45 degree angle gives a very smooth, almost straight line.

It is interesting to note that this foot type is likely the most common globally. As it is accepted scientifically that the human species originated in Africa this could be an indication of some validity to the theory of foot shape.

Greek Foot Shape Ancestry

Ancient Greek civilization dates back to 7000 BC but the glory days really began between the 6th to 2nd centuries BC. A civilization of thinkers, the Greeks are credited with the invention of things such as coins, cement, maps and even the alarm clock.

Philosophy and theater also found their beginnings in Greek culture as did major advances in warfare. This civilization gave the world a great deal but what about the shape of their feet?

The second most popular foot shape globally, the so-called Greek foot is made distinct by a second toe that is longer than all others including the big toe. The third, fourth and fifth toes angle downwards in their length. Interestingly, almost half of modern day Greeks have this type of foot shape.

Celts Foot Shape Ancestry

The Celts were a widespread and diverse people who ranged from modern day Southern England, throughout mainland Europe as far east as Serbia. As a term Celt refers to the inhabitants of Europe during the Iron age 700 BC to 400 BC.

As a people the Celts were never really one unified group but rather numerous tribes who likely intermarried on occasion but certainly waged war on each other. Did the Celts therefore have a uniform foot shape?

It is hard to say as very little exists of the Celt cultures today but it is thought that they had a similar foot shape to the Greeks. A long second toe that protrudes past the big toe and descending lengths on the third, fourth and fifth digits. The big toe, however, was supposedly wider and more rounded than the Greek.

Roman Foot Shape Ancestry

The Roman empire reached its peak around 117 BC and was the largest and most extensive unified political and social power in western civilization. Much like the Greeks the Romans left their mark in the inventions they created. These included roads, sanitation and surgical tools.

The unity and organization of the Roman Empire and their military is still studied to this day and marveled upon. There were few who could withstand the Romans when they marched to war. The question is what did the marching feet look like?

Considered a classical foot shape, the Roman foot is defined as having the first three toes including the big toe be the same length. The fourth and fifth toes are notably shorter but roughly equal in length to each other. It is estimated that about a quarter of the world's population have this toe shape.

German Foot Shape Ancestry

What we understand as Germany today was once a cluster of separate tribes that were dubbed collectively as Germanic by the famous Julius Caesar. These tribes originally came from Scandinavia around 1000 BC settling first in the Rhine Valley.

There were several different tribes that developed in the region including the most notable ones such as the Angles, Saxons, Franks, Vandals and Visigoths among others. Considered barbarians by the Romans it was tribes such as the Visigoths who ultimately helped dismantle the Roman Empire.

One of the rarest foot shapes, the German foot has the big toe as the largest but the remaining four toes are almost exactly the same length as each other. The toes in general also tend to be wider and more stocky than the other foot types.

How We Know the Foot Shapes of Ancient Ancestors

When we consider that we are talking about our ancient ancestors how can we possibly know what shape their feet were? The answer is truthfully we can’t be exactly certain but we do use art as a source for our research.

The initial believers of the foot shape theory looked at the existing art from the various civilizations. Paying close notice of how feet were painted or carved in pictures or statues it is noticeable that different cultures favored different shapes.

In all honesty it cannot be confirmed if these feet were depicted in this way because of how most feet were or whether it was an artistic choice that was popular.

Is Toe Shape Theory Valuable to Genealogy?

In terms of provable information, toe shape doesn’t really give us much, especially when we consider the inherent pitfalls of DNA evidence when we go back more than a few generations. It is entirely possible that we may not possess a single strand of DNA from a great great grandparent.

This is, however, a fun experiment and maybe there is some truth to the theory. Although it is next to impossible to trace a 100% accurate paper trail back to anyone of these civilizations.

Neil Edwards

Neil Edwards

Genealogist and family-tree research specialist

Neil was born in Shropshire, England surrounded by centuries of living history. His interest in the past has been a lifelong passion leading to undergraduate degrees in both Economic History & Geography and History & Politics.

This interest in history quickly translated to family history when he moved to the U.S. in 2010. It was here that he began working on his own family tree as well as that of his American wife. That research allowed him to gain a wealth of experience working with both U.S. and European genealogical documents and studying their best uses in researching family history.

Following 9 years of honing his genealogical research skills, Neil was proud to have earned a certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University in late 2019. Neil also took part in the research process for a Duke University study into the families of 19th Century UK Members of Parliament.