Who were the Potsdam Giants?

Jessica Evans
Feb 6, 2023 12:35 PM PST
3 minute read
potsdam giants


“Fee-fi-fo-fum. Yo Prussia, here we come!” You might have called up Jack, the giant killer, had you lived in late 17th…

"Fee-fi-fo-fum. Yo Prussia, here we come!" You might have called up Jackthe giant killer, had you lived in late 17th Century Europe. That's when King Frederick William I of Prussia assembled a band of towering giants to scare off his rivals.

Quick Prussia recap

In case your history of the Prussians is a little hazy, here’s a quick review: Prussia used to be a German state. It was on the southeast coast of the Baltic Sea. When German states united in 1871, Prussia became part of the German Empire. However, Prussia lost its autonomy in 1932 following a failed coup and the Nazi Gleichschaltung laws.

Speaking of Nazis, did you know this martial art was originally developed to beat them up? It’s true!

But back to King Frederick William I

No Goliath himself, King Freddy was only 5 foot 3 inches tall. Still, he wanted his enemies to tremble at the mere mention of his name. Trust me, this guy had a major Napoleon Complex. Maybe that's why he recruited some of the biggest men from Europe and the Middle East when establishing Prussian Infantry Number 6 – or as the Prussian folk called it, Lange Kerle (the Long Fellows). 

Frederick William I.

Enter the Potsdam Giants

These gargantuan soldiers, later known as the Potsdam Giants, were typically no shorter than 6 foot 2 inches. But the biggest was rumored to come in at a whopping 8 feet tall. Whoa! That guy's sneakers must have been like paddle boats! The Potsdam Giants were taller than average, even by today's standards, but back in 1675, the average height for a man was 5 foot 4 inches. Compared to everyone else, these lads probably looked like they had climbed down from some sky-high beanstalk looking for the goose that laid the golden egg.

Deep, dark obsessions

Now, Ole' King Freddie had a dark obsession with these real-life titans. He searched far and wide for the most colossal men his money could buy, but he didn't always pay or ask nicely. Some soldiers were drugged, kidnapped and smuggled into Prussia against their will. The King even attempted to breed the men, forcing the tallest to marry and have children with taller-than-average women. Talk about specifics. Also, gross.

Prussian Langer Kerl by Johann Christof Merck, 1718.

While the Potsdam Giants underwent daily military drills, they never set foot on any battlefield. Rumor has it that many suffered from gigantism, which caused their growth hormones to surge abnormally. This made them unhealthy and unfit for combat.

But hey, nobody's perfect. King Frederick couldn't have cared less about their fitness. In fact, he used the troops for his own amusement. The king forced the men to parade around his bedroom whenever he got sick. If he was down and out, they were his court jesters. They didn't find this at all pleasant because some tried escaping. Being kidnapped and forced into military service isn't exactly a dream come true.

In 1740, when Frederick finally died, his son disbanded the regiment for financial reasons. They had been a costly bunch, after all. It takes a lot of food to feed a giant.

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