Beards have always occupied a strange place in human society, no matter the geographical location or political context. Nowadays, a fellow may take offence if someone said a bad word about his beard, which may result in an argument. But there have been times where the beard history of human manhood was such an important and sacred feature that duels were fought because of it.
Some ancient tribes derived their name directly from the fashion of their beards. In some cultures, beards were grown in times of mourning. In other cultures, beards were cut in times of mourning. You could construct a dedicated beard history class that spans thousands of years just by focusing on facial hair alone. So let’s take a look at some of the weird and wonderful notions our ancestors had about their beards.
Beard History: Germanic Tribes
In the Chatten tribe, which existed in central Europe at the time of the Romans, young men were absolutely forbidden to shave their face until they had killed their first enemy on the battle-field. Your first shave is a big occasion for most young men, so imagine how big it was for the boys of the Chatten tribe.
Another Germanic tribe, who existed around 1,000 years ago, were the Lombards. Also known as the Longobards, or Longbeards, this tribe of warriors was identifiable by their gloriously long beards, which were grown down to their chests.
The leader of the Lombards, Otto the Great, would often swear on his beard whenever he had an important vow to make, such was their love and dedication to their facial hair.
Beard History: Medieval Period
In medieval Europe, Christian Knights grew beards as a symbol of virility and honour. A common way to start a fight with another man during this time was to pull his beard.
After a man had had his beard pulled, the only proper way to respond was to fight to the death. If you are surprised by this, then maybe you’ve never had your beard pulled. Members of the church during this period would keep themselves clean-shaven. This was to act as a symbol for their celibacy.
Muslim prophet Muhammad urged followers to grow long beards without any moustache. This was to symbolise their breaking away from the old religions, which demanded moustaches also.
As you can see, beards, or lack of them, had a great cultural significance in the middle-ages. Simply looking at the hair on a man’s face could tell you a lot about him. And about beard history in general.
Beard History: Modern Day
Every United States President before Abraham Lincoln was clean-shaven. Following Lincoln and his trademark goatee, facial hair became common for U.S presidents.
These days, we are more likely to know Garibaldi as a style of beard, rather than as the Italian general it was named after. The same applies to the Van Dyke (Belgian painter) and the Balbo (Italian politician).
Beard culture travels fast these days, with new styles and names popping up all the time (the Bandholz, anyone?). Right now, touching another man’s beard won’t result in a fight to the death. But the beard history moves in cycles, so who knows what the future holds?
Header image: Photo by mari lezhava on Unsplash