A Clean Look at the History of Beards

Men are blessed in a number of ways. One blessing, however, that most men can own is the ability to grow a beard. Maybe it's a curse, because if you want a clean-shaven look, there's a daily ritual. This is probably not a bad thing, because it provides a time of solitude and quietness in the family bathroom.

A study of human history gives a strange picture of beards-there does not seem to be a lot of logic to when and where beards are and are not appropriate. There have been times in history when having a beard, the bearer could be beaten or killed, the person could be thrown out of the church, or the bearer could be taxed at a higher rate. Taxing a beard these days would make us all shave twice a day!

The removal of the face hair had to be very painful thousands of years ago, when they first simply plucked the hair, then sharpened everything they could get their hands on, like shells, crystals and flints, to cut their beards. At one stage, Greek philosophers wanted everyone to believe that a beard was a sign of wisdom, but later some warfarers saw beards as a hindrance to war, and soldiers were ordered to shave.

Peter I (late 17th century) and Henry VIII (early 16th century) declared that beards should not be worn and ordered their officials to shave and tax those who wished to keep a beard. Henry, however, was growing a beard because he was the king. Clergymen in the 16th century had been clean-shaven as a sign of celibacy, so with the Reformation, many who had left the church had grown a beard as an outward sign of rebellion. The longer the beard, the bigger the protest! The beard tax continued in England with Elizabeth I as a revenue-raiser for the government.

A number of interesting beard customs over the years:

  • Amish men shave until they marry, then after marriage they shave no more.
  • Alexandra the Great made his soldiers shave, so that their beards could not be grabbed during hand to hand combat.
  • An old German tribe member was not allowed to shave until he had killed an enemy.
  • Roman boys would not remove facial hair until they reached manhood. The first shave would be offered to their idols.
  • WWI soldiers could not have a beard, because wearing a beard did not give an effective seal on the gas-mask.

There are always interesting facts found when any subject is researched. Beards are no exception.

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