December 16, 2015 3 min read

The Story Of Beards Throughout History

Written by: Zack from

Like many of the customs of today, the history of beards had a very unique and fascinating beginning, journeying through some very popular times as well as many disfavored ones. The popularity of the facial hair during ancient times was more about practicality than it was fashionable. Even before men could shave, primitive man had beards to help protect them in the cold winter months. Ancient army men grew their beards to intimidate their enemies, and it became a status symbol for many decades. As civilizations grew, the utility need for the beards diminished, but they seemed to enjoy a resurgence every century or two.

Ancient Civilizations and Facial Hair

Not all men in ancient times grew beards to strike fear in the hearts of the people they were about to conquer. Many men in ancient times understood that the beard could also bring about a sense of style. Men would begin to dye and put gold threads in the beard to represent they had money, creating a money-class that the rest of the town could easily recognize. Well-to-do men would oil and then dress the beards with elaborate ringlets to impress and speak to their degree of wisdom. While the status symbol associated with the beard grew, it was common to punish a man of wrongdoing by shaving his beard in public to allow others to see his shame.

Influence of Rome on the Beard

The rise and the fall of the popularity of the beard can be traced back to the Romans. People in the civilized world would grow their beards in direct response to their leader. When the Romans began to conquer more territories, the popularity of the beard began to subside for one reason only. The new civilians under Roman rule were ordered to be clean-shaven to respect the practices of their new Emperor. The Roman influence however extended much farther than the territories they were in control of, so people in foreign lands began adopted the practice of shaving their beards too. As time went on, if the Emperor were to receive battle scars from the war, he would grow out the beard to hide his facial scars. The citizens who pledged allegiance to their leader would follow suit.

Beards and the Middle Ages

As the history of beards continued, during the Middle Ages the beard once again gained increasing popularity. This was widely due in part to the fact that the upper class simply grew their beards as a sign of prestige. Knights would grow and then cultivate their beards to show both honor and respect to the leaders. Once the Renaissance arrived, change once again had arrived and the look of being cleanly shaven was the look of choice throughout the land.

Beard and the English Influence

When Henry VIII was a ruler, beards were no longer just an expression of your personality or allegiance to your ruler. Even though the King wore his beard right until he died, if you had a beard during his rule you were taxed for it. This taxable offense was a direct result of the Queen having a serious dislike for facial hair. She made it clear the taxation would remain simply because of her disfavor of the beards. This policy of taxing the poor who had beards made its way to Russia, where Peter the Great also imposed the same tax on beards to demonstrate his deep appreciation for the Western culture.

19th & 20th Century Beard History

By the halfway point of the 19th century, once again the beard was all the rage. The leading figures of the time had a fondness for facial hair, so they adopted growing beards as a show of leadership and power. Abraham Lincoln, Karl Marx, Frederick III, Giuseppe Verdi, Napoleon III, and Charles Dickens eventually grew full beards to mark their place as trend-setters. As the 20th Century rolled around, personal practice began to favor the clean-shaven look, and the beards once again fell out of favor. The underlying cause was because during World War I it was illegal for a soldier to grow a beard. The reasoning was that it could interfere with the fit of their gas masks. The clean-shaven look remained in favor until the end of the next World War. It wasn't until the 1960's that the beatniks and hippies brought back the beard in full force.

After a few up and down turns in the history of beards, today facial hair is as popular as it ever has been before. The renewed acceptance in facial hair can be seen in celebrities, musicians, politicians, and many of their followers.

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