Every man starts most of his mornings with a shave. This simple gesture has been recreated by so many generations across the history of humanity that it didn’t remain within the simple concept of a habit. Shaving has become a ritual of great meaning which entails a source of confidence and pride. So, there’s no wonder that each country has attached a unique set of meaning and functionality to it. Let’s see how shaving rituals differ from culture to culture.
1. Ancient Egyptians
The primordial civilization of Egypt provides the first records that describe the act of shaving. The early Death masks and paintings reveal that men were very scrupulous with their facial hair. Pharaohs were the divine reincarnation of gods. They enjoyed a special treatment of grooming which bears the mark of deity. They would braid their beards and adorned them with golden dust. Other Egyptian men also had the custom of wearing mustaches in a fashion that resembles musketeers’.
However, things changed starting with the Dynastic Period. Men stopped seeing the beard as a sign of virility. Instead, they thought of it as a representation of primary instincts that only animals are blind enough to have. So, shaving became a custom among wealthy men. It also marked the dawn of barbaric times and the rise of civilization. Barbers were serving the royalty day in and day out so that their heads and bodies remained smooth all the time.
Even priests developed their own shaving ritual. They would remove all hair that covered their bodies by plucking the strands one by one. This procedure made no exception, so the priests were seen without eyelashes or eyebrows.
The act of shaving wasn’t the only factor that empowered this daily ritual. Pharaohs possessed expensive razors sanctified by priests and were adorned with jewels. When an Egyptian monarch died, he was buried with lots of treasures that also were of utility for his afterlife. Sometimes, these treasures included razors so that they can remain civilized even in the realm of souls.
However, even in the era of civilization, beards didn’t lose their meaning completely. Kings continued to wear this badge of virility but only as an “osird” which signifies the divine beard. However, this royal mark was actually a fake beard made of gold or silver and symbolized power and divinity.
2. Ancient Mesopotamians
Things were different for the civilization that grew between Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The Assyrians, Sumerians, and Phoenicians devoted much of their daily routine to tending their thick beards. Unlike Egyptians, the wealthy class appreciated a rich beard for its capacity to round up the image of a potent man. They painted their beards with henna and adorned them with golden dust. Ribbons were not a peculiarity. On the contrary, men used them to add a notch of good taste.
A long beard pointed out a high status for its possessor. This means that the upper class spent a lot of time to groom their facial hair. Their tradition guided them to curly beards as a symbol of power. Consequently, their hair was carefully organized in three tiers of curly locks.
Moreover, the hair style spoke more about a man than just taste. The way they were arranging their hair on the head signified the kind of profession they had. Thus, people could identify physicians or priests easily on the streets.
3. Ancient Greeks
Now, this archaic culture praised beards not only as a symbol of manhood and virility but also a mark of wisdom. The cradle of Western civilization that the Ancient Greeks empowered through philosophy has blended the facial hair with religious rituals. The boys were offering their first beard as a valuable tribute to Apollo, the God of Sun and Protector of spiritual life, youth, and music.
The only men devoid of beards were the men that were in great grief after losing a family member. As a sign of his tremendous sorrow, men would pluck their facial hair with their bare hands or put it on fire. When a man died, his family would hang flocks of his beard at the door to announce the passers their tragedy.
Shaving someone’s beard was a major offense that could even end up with jail time. Cutting half of the facial hair would mark a soldier with the demeanor of a coward and was people looked down on him.
4. Ancient Romans
Romans didn’t like to be taken as their neighborhood brothers and went against their beliefs. This included the visual looks, as Romans adopted a baby-like appearance with the beard completely kept at bay. The first facial hair of young men was a part of a rite of passage to manhood. A religious ceremony would accompany the first shave which made it an important event in a lifetime.
Young men were shaving for the first time while their family and closed ones watched. Afterward, the trimmers were placed in a special box usually made of precious metals and offered to one of the Roman Gods as an offering.
5. Early Christians
Early Christians had mixed feeling about shaving or not shaving the beard. Some would consider facial hair as a symbol of religious devotion while others would see it as an evil presence. In the early times of Christians, monks would treat the first whiskers as a rite of passage also to a holy life. Once a man decided to devote himself to serving God in a monastery, he would go through a ritual of initiation that included shaving.
Before eliminating the facial hair, the new recruits would say a prayer. This religious text talks about the martyr Saint Peter. Before he was crucified upside down, people were mocking because his beard was completely cut off. However, his disciples changed the mockery into a sign of devotion and shaved their own beards. From that moment, the prayer of initiation instructed the new clerics to follow Saint Peter and shave as a gesture of piety.
So, this concludes our tour of the main shaving rituals around the world. You can see that beards played an important role throughout human civilization. They were either a sign of power or signified a key to a new stage in one’s life.
Patrick Lenhoff is a personal trainer who loves writing about fitness and grooming. “Every man needs to know how to be well groomed!”, says Patrick. Patrick Lenhoff is a regular contributor at ShavingSolution.