A History of Beards
When we talk about a history of beards, it's important to consider that in different societies, cultures, and eras beards have either been a status symbol or a symbol of infamy.
In Egyptian culture the length and size of a beard were an indication of status. However, oddly enough, Egyptian beards were often fake, Elaborately decorated, and painted or dusted for an ornamental appearance.
In more modern culture, beard's have been a symbol of disrepute. In cowboy movies you could always identify the outlaw by their beard or, at the very least, their stubble. In many religions a beard was a sign of demonic intent or evil. For example Satan is commonly portrayed is having a narrow beard.
Wars have been fought over beards. The Gauls, Franks and Saxons wore beards as a symbol of strength and honor. It was said that Julius Caesar often shaved captured Gauls to humiliate them. The Spartans used shaving as a form of punishment to mark their victims as cowards.
In this chapter, we'll look at the role beards played over time and analyze some of the most memorable bearded characters from the history books.
Beards and Religion
Aside from the mention of Jesus's beard in Isaiah 50:6, there are many other interesting references to facial hair in the Bible.
Samson was granted unusual strength by God to fight his enemies. However, his strength was based on his Nazirite vow as written in Leviticus 21:5:
"They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard nor make any cuttings in their flesh."
In short, to cut his hair or beard would result in the loss of his superhuman strength.
Elsewhere in the Bible, beards were the basis for war.
When King David sent ambassadors to the Ammonites after the death of their king, Hanun, their new king, did something unexpected; he ordered that the ambassadors should have half of their beards shaved off.
At the time, slaves were clean-shaven and only free men wore full beards. Most men of the time would have rather died than suffer the indignity of losing their beards.
This act was a serious affront to the ambassadors and therefore, an affront to their king, David. David ordered the ambassadors to wait at Jericho until their beards had regrown, returning to Jerusalem with their full beards and therefore their honor and dignity.
For a deeper analysis of beard references in the Bible, visit The Biblical Beard.
Throughout history the beard has been a sign of male maturity, marking a right of passage from boyhood to manhood. More than that, beards have symbolized authority and stature, endowing their owners with a quality of rank or standing in the community.
Indeed, the most iconic representations of royalty in popular culture include facial hair as a defining characteristic of the person's status.
From early kings to modern day nobility, the names of bearded royalty are too numerous to mention, but here are some memorable monarchs sporting different beard styles.
Suleiman the Magnificent was Sultan of the Ottoman Empire for just under 70 years. During his reign, the Ottomon Empire comprised most of the Middle East and Southeastern Europe.
King Gustav II ruled as King of Sweden from 1611 to 1632. Gustav is credited with raising Sweden from a regional power to one of the great powers of Europe.
James was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and a great-great-grandson of Henry VII, King of England and Lord of Ireland. James I, united England and Scotland and was the first king to rule over both kingdoms.
Cyrus the Great ruled the Persian Empire for nearly 30 years. During his reign, Persia encompassed most of the Middle East, including Israel, Iran and Mesopotamia.
During Meiji’s time as Emperor, Japan transformed from an undeveloped and isolated country into an industrial superpower.
Richard the Lion Heart was known for his deeds during the Third Crusade and spent only 6 months in England during his 10-year reign.
It's really common in television and movies to see bad guys portrayed with beards. Adding facial hair to a character seems to be a simple way to show that somebody might not be trustworthy. But why? Perhaps its because a beard hides our facial expressions. Let's take a look at some of the more nefarious characters from history and popular culture and analyze the role beards and mustaches have played in their development.
The devil is often depicted with a beard and a handlebar mustache. Nothing says "sinister" like Satan's pointy beard.
Satan is often portrayed with the characteristics of a goat, faun or satyr. Perhaps this has something to do with pagan deities and Christian attempts to show pagan gods as evil.