This study is concerned with the moment-carrying capacity of short pier foundations in loose and dense cohesionless soil. The results of non-linear three-dimensional finite element analyses are compared with data from centrifuge tests modelling the behaviour of 1 m diameter prototype piers. The numerical predictions are shown to be very sensitive to the value of coefficient of earth pressure at rest, K-0, and most closely match observations when K-0 = 0.6 is assumed. The results of parametric studies of square prototype piers in loose and dense cohesionless soils are then presented. Empirical equations are derived between moment-carrying capacity and pier geometry, for limiting pier rotations of 1 degrees and 2 degrees, and very close fits are demonstrated between the values given by these equations and the original computed values. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.