A History of Beards – Part Two
Beards have always been around, since the dawn of man there has been facial hair. It isn’t a passing phase, beards will be here long after me and you just as they have been here long before we were born. However, beards have gone through stages of being ‘on trend’ or fashionable. The Ancient Egyptians started to revere clean shaven faces, although Royalty still wore fake beards! Did anyone rock beards as much as the Greeks though? In A History of Beards – Part Two we are going to look at what the Greeks thought about beards and why Romans didn’t grow them.
The Greek Beard
Ancient Greece, love, poetry, philosophy and beards. Does it get any better than that? Well, maybe but it was a resurgence of the face fur. Although shaving had been invented in the Stone Age, it was the Egyptians that made it popular. The Greeks had other ideas though.
In fact, Ancient Greeks believed the beard to be a sign of virility. The gods were all depicted as having beards. Zeus, Poseidon, Hermes and Dionysus all had beards according to myth and their statues laid claim to this. Actually, the Greeks also preferred long hair and used to wear it in a bun. The first man bun perhaps? Only during a time of mourning did some Greek men shave their beards.
Men of power in Ancient Greece would often be addressed by people of lower standing with a touch of their beards. This was a sign of submission towards the rich and powerful. Greek beards were frequently curled with tongs to keep them tidy and looking full. Soldiers always ensured their beards were well cared for and before battle would make them look just right. Weak or cowardly soldiers would have their beards forcibly shaved as a sign of their crimes. It would later become normal for a soldier to be clean shaven.
Philosophers and Alexander the Great
Socrates and Plato both thought that beards were a sign of intelligence. The more intelligent you were the longer your beard would grow. It has been said that they actually believed beards were the discharge from a brain that was too full with knowledge and ideas. Both of these philosophers had long beards, which is probably why they thought this. Unfortunately, I can tell you that a longer beard does not make you wiser. I am living proof of that!!
Alexander the Great was a King of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon and he was a feared man. He led his men through Asia and Africa to create one of the largest Empires of the day. He forced his soldiers to shave their beards which is cruel, you might say. However, his reasons were well justified. The Persian soldiers they fought against would grab the beards of their enemies in order to kill them easier. This brought about another age of clean shaven faces.
People tried to pass laws to stop the clean shaven look but none had any effect. Aristotle, the famous philosopher, even shaved his beard much to the disgust of his fellow scholars. He was one of only a few wise men that did shave their beards though and most philosophers maintained the bearded appearance. It was mostly these wise men that kept up the tradition of having a beard whilst all around them shaved, whittling away their manhood as they did.
Romans and Gillette
Where the Greeks saw Beards as a sign of wisdom and sometimes wealth, the Romans saw beards as a sign of poverty. When Roman men came of age, usually around 20 years old, they would celebrate this by having their first shave. It is thought that this was started by Roman Emperor Nero and although this isn’t necessarily fact, it feels right. All of the statues depict Nero as being clean shaven so it makes sense that this might be true.
During a time of mourning Romans would grow their beard, the opposite to what the Greeks did at these times. Once out of the period of mourning they would take up their Gillette and shave the hair that had grown. Obviously they didn’t have throw away razors like we do now, instead they used cut throat razors or tweezers! Yep, they plucked out the beard hairs with tweezers. Ouch!
The Roman army was always known for being well disciplined, lean, mean fighting machines, so to speak. They kept their armour polished and their weapons clean and sharp, ready for battle. Part of their daily routine on top of this was to shave. It ensured a regimented look throughout the ranks and has filtered through the ages into the modern army’s of the world.
Rich, Poor and the beginning of male grooming?
Whilst the wealthy men of Rome had barbers to visit, the men in the countryside did not have such luxury. The farmers, millers, blacksmiths tended to have beards as they could rarely afford to have theirs shaved. It was definitely a sign of wealth and standing to be clean shaven.
Some men today are all about the grooming. They shave their face and other parts of their body such as their legs! Even if they aren’t athletes!! They spend time fixing their hair so it’s perfect and plucking out loose eyebrow hair. Some even get their eyebrows professionally done. A sure sign of vanity which the Romans had in abundance.
Romans were the epitome of the well groomed man. Hairless faces, chests and legs, neatly trimmed hair, bronzed bodies from working out and nostrils well plucked. These men spent as long grooming themselves as the women did, sometimes even longer. Had the beard died with the Romans?
Well, there were these chaps from Scandinavia known as Vikings and they liked their facial hair!!
Thanks for reading A History of Beards – Part Two. The 3rd part of my history series will be out next week! In the meantime have a read of A History of Beards – Part One
I’ll be back later this week with another Beard Oil Review so until then
Take care and keep growing