Shave or Not to Shave

shave or not to shave - roman mythology and beards

The other day I visited the Greek, later Roman city of Emporiae on the Iberian peninsula, and a group of Roman Soldiers (Manaies from Blanes) (cover photo) showed us some Roman infantry tactics. All the men of this V Legion were wearing beards, and I asked myself:

“I thought Roman soldiers always went clean shaved to the battlefield”

So if we are re-living mythological times in Mythos, should we put on a beard or no beard? Time for a stroll along Beards in Ancient times. It is clear that, from Ancient Egypt to the Vikings, facial hair has fallen in and out of fashion, just as much as it does today. But there is a little more to it, because with a pronounced beard we can make a statement and they represent masculinity.


During the times of the famous Egypt dynasties, however, shaving was associated with cleanliness, so priests shaved themselves entirely, but they would then wear a stylized false beard for ceremonial purposes. Egyptian art suggests that non-priests also wore false beards, in this case to emphasise that they were followers of the god Osiris. Pharaohs wore false beards of a particular design – one that splayed out at the bottom.

Note that the classic straight, plaited beard with a turned-up end, such as known from the famous mask of King Tutankhamun, would not have been a style worn by a pharaoh during life; this was worn only in death [1] [2]

Tutankhamun mask with the well-known weird beard


The ancient Greeks regarded the beard as a sign of virility. Being able to grow a full beard was also a sign of high status and wisdom. Many statues show notable Greeks with fine curly beards. Many Greek men wished to emulate the gods Zeus and Heracles, both of whom are defined in art by huge beards. Ancient Greek men would also use hot tongs to make their beards hang in long, lustrous curls. From the earliest times, however, the shaving of the upper lip was not uncommon.[3]

Socrates with lustrous beard

As with any fashion someone will come along who turns the convention on its head. In the case of beards it was Alexander the Great who seems to have preferred the smooth look and according to Plutarch he outsourced it to his soldiery, instructing them to shave. When questioned why this was Alexander pointed out that it was something which the enemy might grab in combat [4]

Alexander the Great (The Movie, with Colin Farrell)


But we began our story with the Romans. So what about them? The men of ancient Rome had a more ambiguous relationship with beards. They found the long curled beards of the Greeks somewhat off-putting, and those Romans who chose to wear beards tended to keep them clipped and neat. Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, King of Rome in the sixth century BC, is said to have introduced the razor to his countrymen and tried to encourage the habit of shaving. A century later, the fashion had finally caught on. By the second century BC, Pliny was reporting that the Roman general Scipio Africanus shaved every day. As fashion was dictated by the whim of the current emperor, when Hadrian, in the first century AD, wore a beard to disguise his blemished skin, facial hair once more became fashionable.

I leave you with this nice video of Metatron called “Did Roman soldiers have beards“. It is clear that it is not as simple as I put above – please bear the bad light and sound of the video, since his explanation is pretty good and detailed:

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