5 historical fun facts about shaving
Have you ever wondered how men shaved before the razor or the straight razor existed? What tools did they use? What ointments did they invent before we were graced with the wonderful aftershaves and beard oils we have today? Did they shave or did they grow a beard for the same reasons we do today? In this article we’ll tell you five things you didn’t know about the history of classic shaving. You will be amazed!
What’s a razor? The most surprising shaving instruments
Nowadays, traditional razors, straight razors, leather strops and all sorts of complements make our lives much easier, but men in the past didn’t have it that easy. Among the rudimentary instruments used to shave (or to pull up the hair) in Prehistory were stones, clam shells or even shark teeth. They soon invented other tools such as silex knives or obsidian plaques, but we’re afraid they were not as sharp as our razors are…
Oils, lotions and ointments: skin care in old times
Did you know that ancient Egyptians used several kinds of oils to soften the skin and protect it from the sun and the wind? Actually, they used many of the same oils we use nowadays: almond oil, cedar oil, olive oil, sesame oil, mint oil, rose oil… However, not everybody was as careful as the Egyptians were. In the 17th century there was a dangerous trend: a “shaving cream” made with not so nice ingredients: it had ivy and resin (all good here), but also ant eggs, burnt leeches and frog blood. We don’t know if it worked or not, but we’re not so keen on trying it!
To shave or not to shave, that is the question
You don’t need to be a historian to know that Greeks and Romans were always at odds. Well, their rivalry extended even to beards. For the Greeks, the beard was a symbol of wisdom and virility and a shaved face meant obviously the opposite. In fact, Spartans considered coward were punished with the shaving of their beards. However, the Romans decided on a different trend. Alexander the Great commanded to their men that they shaved their beards, so that the enemy couldn’t grab them in combat —and this is how shaved faces ended up being the usual in ancient Rome. General Scipio Africanus made shaving even more popular, since he shaved every day.
However, things changed yet again a few centuries later, when emperor Hadrian (who was thought to grow a beard in order to cover his scars), made facial hair trendy again.
Going to the barber shop is not a modern thing
We’re still in Rome, although we’re going to travel back a few years, until the 5th century BC. In the times of Tarquinius Superbus, seventh and last king of Rome, there was a public barbershop where the Romans shaved, but the history of barbers doesn’t start here. The first known barber was Meryma’at, the Egyptian barber that shaved, every three days, the priests of Amun —although he didn’t shave just their beards, but their whole body. Besides, in Ancient Greece, even if beards were more fashionable as a sign of matureness and wisdom, men took care of their hair and beard during their philosophical talks about politics and society.
However, in Medieval Europe barbers had other very different tasks —the barber profession was very linked to surgery. The barber-surgeon could cut your beard, pull up a tooth… or even amputate an arm!
The Church and the beard
The debate between beards and shaving continued after the arrival of Christianity. At first, the beard regained its status as a symbol of wisdom, but after the East-West Schism (which marked the final split between Rome’s Catholic Church and Orthodox Church), the Church of Rome asked its priests to shave so they would look different from the Byzantines, the Jewish and the Muslims. However, this conflict had come a long way, and so had the beard issue: it seems that two centuries before, Pope Leo III had been the first one to shave his beard to set a difference with the East, and pope Gregory VI had threatened to confiscate the goods of the priests who didn’t shave before standing in front of the faithful.
As you can see, the history of the beard is quite something. Who would have imagined that what today is a merely aesthetic option was so politically and socially important before! Did you know these fun facts about beards and shaving? Tell us in the comments!