03 July 2012

A brief history of the clean-shaven face

 A coin depicting a cleanly-shaven Alexander the Great.
In the time of Alexander the Great the custom of smooth shaving was introduced. Reportedly, Alexander ordered his soldiers to be clean shaven, fearing that their beards would serve as handles for their enemies to grab and to hold the soldier as he was killed. The practice of shaving spread from the Macedonians, whose kings are represented on coins, etc. with smooth faces, throughout the whole known world of the Macedonian Empire. Laws were passed against it, without effect, at Rhodes and Byzantium; and even Aristotle conformed to the new custom, unlike the other philosophers, who retained the beard as a badge of their profession. A man with a beard after the Macedonian period implied a philosopher, and there are many allusions to this custom of the later philosophers in such proverbs as: “The beard does not make the sage.”
We'll see if Andrew Sullivan has a response.

From Collective History, via Historical Hysterical and Consciousness is a Congenital Hallucination.


  1. How did they shave?

    I heard the Romans used clam shells and ripped out the facial hair.

    Where the blades of the time sharp enough to shave with?

    1. I wondered about that too, since most early malleable metals like copper would probably not have held a very sharp edge.

      I have heard of clam shells being used, but the sharpest edge I can think of for preindustrial times would have been obsidian. Whether that was available to the Romans, I don't know.

    2. Found a video on shaving with obsidian, and will blog it later today or tomorrow.

      btw, I shouldn't have questioned whether obsidian was available to the Romans - it certainly would have been. Whether it was used by them, I don't know.


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