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The Troubled History of Beards

Article #149 • Written by Daniel Lew

Thanks to my parents' genes, I simply do not grow facial hair. I never have, unless you count microscopic stubble in the same ranks as a full beard. It certainly makes me a little jealous, especially when there are groups around promoting goodwill and happiness through the growth of a beard. So imagine my surprise when I found out that facial hair has had a much more troubled history than I first imagined.

Coming in many shapes, sizes and colors, the beard is a prominent feature on most men who do not shave (and the occasional woman - though let's not go there). Today, pogonotrophy is normally accepted in society; but in the past, growing a beard could cause quite a few problems. Sprouting your manly facial hair could get you taxed, be a sign of rebellion against the church - or could even get you killed.

At the least, removal of facial hair can be painful. Archaeologists have found evidence that men started to shave off their beards as early as 100,000 BC. However, the the first razors discovered by archaeologists date back to 30,000 BC, and were made of flint. Thus, before then shaving was a painful ordeal. One who wanted a bare face would use two sea shells to grip their hair, then pull; a method which sounds even more distressing than getting a bikini wax.

Beards were in the vogue in Greek society, where a healthy beard was a sign of wisdom and knowledge. But then Alexander the Great came along and changed all that, for the sake of the military. He forced his soldiers to shave for fear that an enemy could use a man's beard to his disadvantage in close combat. He thought that the enemy would grab it during hand-to-hand struggles, though I would be more worried about the pain of someone ripping my beard off. In contrast, the slaves, who were normally made to shave, were then ordered to grow out their stubble. Far be it for slaves to be equally fashionable as their masters.

The beard eventually came back into fashion, but a few rulers objected to their presence. In 1698, Peter I of Russia commanded his courtiers and officials to cut off their beards. To add insult to injury, he would sometimes personally shave the beards of his noblemen. Those wishing to keep their beards had to pay a tax - 100 rubles each year - as well as carry around a medal proclaiming that "beards are a ridiculous ornament." A similar taxation was passed by England's Henry VIII in 1535 - who, hypocritically, continued to grow a beard of his own. It's good to be the king.

Luckily for English clergymen, priests already kept their faces clean-shaven as a sign of their celibacy. So, when the protestant reformation began in the 16th century, protestant priests would grow their beards out in protest of the old ways. In this case, size mattered; the greater the beard, the greater the protest. This move was well-timed with the reign of Elizabeth I, who decided to tax beards again in the same vein as Henry VIII - either for her dislike of beards, or for money. A government's got to generate revenue somehow, right?

The growing (or cutting) of a beard has had some important symbolic references in the past. Roman boys would not remove any facial hair until they had reached adulthood, then would shave as an offering to the gods. More towards the East, one punishment for crimes was to have one's beard removed in public. In America, an Amish man will keep a clean-shaven face until he has married, after which he will grow a beard which he will keep forever. In the Chatti, a German tribe, a man was not allowed to shave until he had killed an enemy!

In modern times, many police and military forces prohibit beards for one important reason that came up during World War I. In order to get a clean seal on a gas mask, you must have a clean face, so soldiers made sure to shave. They may or may not have been worried about the pulling of beards during hand-to-hand combat, as Alexander the Great was. Regardless, in a choice between shaving my beard and dying a horrible death via biochemical warfare, I'd go with the one that involves staying alive.

Of course, I cannot grow a beard, and maybe I should be grateful for that. Given the colorful history of beards, I may be better off without one.

Article written by Daniel Lew, published on 28 March 2006. Daniel is a contributing editor for

Edited by Alan Bellows.

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Posted 28 March 2006 at 09:15 pm

Damn good article

Posted 28 March 2006 at 10:13 pm

I have to shave every freaking day!! It's a real pain in the asterick, dollar sign, dollar sign. Most chicks don't dig any facial hair at all, especially S. Korean chicks like what I got around here. Ingrown hair: sucks. Aftershave: sucks. Adding one more thing to the to-do list: sucks.

I know that the grass is always greener but from where I'm sittin' probibly are better off.

Posted 28 March 2006 at 10:52 pm

I can't grow a beard either, but I'd love to protest by having one!

Posted 29 March 2006 at 01:02 am

i cant grow one and im happy, i see all my friends complaining about it. as far as the gas mask thing goes, maybe that explains why so many cops have that super stash thing going on.

Posted 29 March 2006 at 01:33 am

Of course, there's more: the Taliban (back when they rulled Afghanistan) required that all grown men have beards long enough that it would stick out the bottom of one's grip when griped in one's left fist, or risk jail time until the beard has grown that long. In my case, I'd be in jail perpetually, 'cause I can't grow a beard hardly at all.

Posted 29 March 2006 at 02:05 am

I think if you gave men (and some women) a choice on having facial hair or not the shaving industry would be up in arms. I shave every other day but would love not having facial hair at all. Funny you never see a face go bald all on its own.

Posted 29 March 2006 at 04:09 am

So you've all seen the new Skittles commercial, right? "Experience...heh heh heh..." *caress*


Posted 29 March 2006 at 04:53 am

For those that can grow and/or have beards, have you ever thought of registering it? A coworker loves his beard and pointed me to this website. Prepare to be AMAZED.

another viewpoint
Posted 29 March 2006 at 05:45 am

"See my beard, it ain't so weird, it's only a beard!" Geo. Carlin

It's all a matter of frame of reference. Everyone needs something to complain about whether they're male or female. So who does have it worst? Probably the guy that previously posted that shaving was a pain in the butt. I'm not sure if he knows which end needs shaving!!! is going to grow somewhere. Sooner or later it's going to need cutting. However, if you want to talk about nose or ear you've got something to talk about.

Posted 29 March 2006 at 05:56 am

And here I have worn one just to give me extra morning minutes, spent in bed and not in front of the mirror.

Posted 29 March 2006 at 06:47 am

Sounds like a hairy topic........(groan) It seems the trend is for less body and facial hair. Those with neatly trimmed and groomed beards are fairly well accepted. An unkept beard seems to have less universal appeal. Ahhhhh........the things we do for fashion.

Posted 29 March 2006 at 07:23 am

It appears that the question is still open regarding whether certain Native Americans could grow beards or not. Are there any (other?) "races" which lack facial hair?


Posted 29 March 2006 at 08:26 am

As a member of the military, I can tell you that many times I wish I did not have to shave. Having to be in a formation at 430 sucks, especially when you have to wake up 15 minutes earlier just to shave. And yes, I grow enough hair I have to shave before every formation. I have friends who have to shave midday as well or they would get into trouble.

Posted 29 March 2006 at 08:36 am

being native American myself i can tell you that we don't grow much facial hair at all.and it's one thing i am greatful for really,seems like ten minunets every morning would only gum up the works

Posted 29 March 2006 at 09:49 am

Then there are those of us with alopecia, and don't have to fool with hair at all. The most facial hair I ever have is a little peach fuzz which I do eventually shave off.

Posted 29 March 2006 at 11:00 am

My Husband is mostly Native American and has quite a beard! He's a regular mountain man! But who knows, it may be the other blood in him that gives him the facial hair. I will say tho, it makes some men very intimidating.

Posted 29 March 2006 at 01:29 pm

I have worn a beard or goatee for the past 20 years - its neatly trimmed and predominately gray - I would feel very strange if clean shaven.

Posted 29 March 2006 at 08:31 pm

I hate having a beard and I hate shaving. I'm never happy...

Posted 29 March 2006 at 09:31 pm

Then there's that case where that guy got arrested for having a really long beard!

Basically, in the time and place where he lived, no man had a beard longer than a fistlength.. except for him. He got in trouble with the government and eventually got arrested, but then protested and would not leave his jail cell when his time was up. Eventually, they got rid of him [eventually means a year] by picking up the chair he was sitting in and carrying him out to the street, where they dumped him. This man was also attacked by people armed with razors and sissors, all for an extra long beard! The story is so hilarious.

I know I shouldn't be saying anything at all.. I'm a girl.. but I couldn't help but share this story.. sorry for intruding =]

Posted 29 March 2006 at 10:18 pm

Peter I attemptted to haveRussian men westernize to be at the same terms as Western Europe, no?

Therefore, beards were a sign of.. something, ew i forgot.

Dreamer [Ru]
Posted 29 March 2006 at 10:55 pm

blank said: "Peter I attemptted to haveRussian men westernize to be at the same terms as Western Europe, no?

Therefore, beards were a sign of.. something, ew i forgot."

Right you are :) Beards were a kind of a sign of religious people :)

Josh Harding
Posted 30 March 2006 at 05:43 am

I have a beard and have kept it in various styles and lengths since I could grow one. The only time I shaved it for an extended period of time brought upon the ridicule and snide remarks of my best freind.

I shaved it off a couple times to let my wife see my face, but other than that, I love having something to scratch when deep in thought, something to help avoid spills when drinking or eating, and something to torture my kids with when it short.

Posted 30 March 2006 at 08:24 am

DovetailSage said: "My Husband is mostly Native American and has quite a beard! He's a regular mountain man! But who knows, it may be the other blood in him that gives him the facial hair. I will say tho, it makes some men very intimidating."

There are lots of Native people around here (Saskatchewan) and the guys that are part French or Metis tend to be alot furrier.

another viewpoint
Posted 30 March 2006 at 04:53 pm

Yes...beards do sometimes have the ability to make one "look distinguished". Then again there is one other benefit...they are great crumb catchers! You never know when you're going to find a previously unclaimed crumb for a late night snack. Discard the crumbs that appear to be moving though.

Posted 31 March 2006 at 03:59 am

I love my beard! Beards are hot. Everybody knows that...

Jam and Bees
Posted 06 April 2006 at 10:26 am

My bf always has a beard of some sort - he grows it or trims it as it suits his fancy. It has been a smart van dyke and it has been a full-blown bushy Grizzly Adams and everything in between. It's his way of being even more creative, and I say why not? It's only hair and it can be shaved or regrown over and over. Besides, guys don't usually employ the many other ways of changing up their looks like we girls do (like makeup).

Posted 06 April 2006 at 11:18 am

The Man here has been shavin' since he was a man of 15 years (some 58 yrs. ago) and rather enjoys the 'Manly Art !'. He's seen virturally every kind of shaving device from a straight blade to the introduction of the 'so-called' safety razor (double-edge blades), blue blades, intro. of the 'Trac II' in '73, to the new 'Powr' razors with four and now five vibrating blades. There was lather w/ a brush & cup, cream in a tube, in a jar, liquids, etc., etc. He uses (believe it or not) plain, ol' white vinegar for a refreshing after-shave lotion (gives a great sensation, detoxifies and as a bonus: clears the sinuses!)! Also get an extra opportunity to repeat affirmations and some prayers prayed! Also 'enjoy' keeping the moustache handsome and trim! Thus, the 'Manly Art' is enjoyed by Da Man! "Semper-Fi!'

Johnny Wayne
Posted 06 May 2006 at 06:22 am

Being Canadian, a beard comes in handy during the cold prairie winters. I tend to keep it through the summer, but shorter. I have found is so much faster to just trim the beard down that do a full shave, that it's been years now since I have been clean shaven. Frankly, shaving is a drag.

I had once read that the motivation for Alexander the Great to require his men to shave was because he could not grow much of a beard himself. He didn't want to appear boyish (or slavelike), and so reversed the policy on what look cool and manly. I don't remember the source of this information, as I read it around 25 years ago. Should anyone else be able to verify this information, I'd like to know where it can be found.

Posted 23 July 2006 at 01:15 am

At one stage men with long beards were banned from Disneyland.

Posted 11 January 2007 at 10:52 am

gorgeousplanet said: "So you've all seen the new Skittles commercial, right? "Experience…heh heh heh…" *caress*


Ha, I love that comercial! Now just think what he could do with a mustache!

Posted 11 January 2007 at 12:29 pm

Being what is basically classified as a half-breed (more or less), my European side dominates my Cherokee side in facial hair. My skin tone reflects my native side vs. my pale side. Unfortunately when I grow a full-blow beard I look like a deranged leprechaun. For some reason I have two different types of facial hair and in three shades, reddish brown, brown, and a light brown. The chin is brown, while the cheeks & jowls are a mixture with the reddish brown/light brown creating a striped look. The chin hair is coarse and the cheek/jowl hair is very fine. The cheek/jowl hair also tends to be very curly at the ends while the chin hair hangs long and straight.

I grew the chest long beard on a bet. I won but had to endure “Where’s your lucky charms” and people grabbing my ear and demanding “’yer pot of gold me hardy. I’s caught you fair and square”. Needless to say, after the payoff the beard came off!

Posted 09 May 2007 at 06:48 am

I grow one in enough of something it needs taking care of about every 1 1/2 days. I hate shaving, won't do it on the weekends at all, need recovery time. I've tried the reuse and toss x2, x3, and x4 blade things, plus those stupid automatics and all I end up doing is getting raw burny chin and it pisses me the hell off. If I could use a car battery to do a do-it-yourself electrolosis machine I'd fry every damn pore til they quit.

Anyone here familiar with the classic barber, etc straight edge and know if it helps at all against over sensitivity?

Posted 15 May 2007 at 12:56 am

J.K. said: "I grow one in enough of something it needs taking care of about every 1 1/2 days. I hate shaving, won't do it on the weekends at all, need recovery time. I've tried the reuse and toss x2, x3, and x4 blade things, plus those stupid automatics and all I end up doing is getting raw burny chin and it pisses me the hell off. If I could use a car battery to do a do-it-yourself electrolosis machine I'd fry every damn pore til they quit.

Anyone here familiar with the classic barber, etc straight edge and know if it helps at all against over sensitivity?"

J.K : I have the solution for you. I suffered from the same problem till I found a barber shop who sells proper shaving soap. This soap, used in conjunction with shaving brush, provides enough protection to avoid shavers rash. There is a product called Mr. Cobbs (made in UK but sold worldwide) which seems expensive but one bottle will last you two years (seriously). The reason why it works so well is that the usual shaving cream from the can is about 10% soap and 90% water, this product is 100% soap and therefore provides the proper layer between skin and razor. So in answer to your question, it is not the razar as much as the product.

Posted 07 September 2013 at 10:13 am

Hello;I'am gurkirpal singh and I have had my longhair head/ face for over 58 years and dainial lew thankyou for your surperb artical . and it is true having a beard isnt a rite it is a privelage. my crime of growing my hair has been attack by total straingers .ex this thing picked me up over its head and and threw me against a brick wall then came at me with a sicors , I juced it with pepperspray it ran off there were many of the same .now employment I have been put down kept down all my life forced to work menial jobs and forced to putup with verbal abuse . never the good jobs. many take their hair litely when westernunion folded with a hostile over throw all the brothers cut their hair off I was the only man with an uncut braid and beard. shaving is the feminization of a man. when I was growingup I had to suffer the the slings and arrows of homopheobia [called a girl] . Oh look he has girls shoes on [ thong sandals] almost everyone weares these now. I actually tested my orintation arround 1970 and found that I was heterosexual the next one that messed with me I punched between the eyes. how dare they pull the inquisition with me I carry a walking stick with me and studied bruce tegmers stick fighting very effective dont f__k with me! When I'am with other longhairs I'am with my own kind, but there are longhaired admirers these are cuthairs that admirere us. In summery You are a man look like one AT ALL COST All the best gurkirpal singh.

Posted 06 May 2015 at 02:15 am

Most of my grownup life i have been wondering about my beard growth, from my teens and till i was around 26 years i had no beard or mustache growth at all, from 26-till 33 witch im now, ive had a small spot on both the sides of my chin under my mouth where it grows a little but at a very slow rate about 25mm in 3 months and its growing very thin.

I come from a vaerity of mixed genes From my fathers side Mostly Norwegian, Danish and Netherlands. and from my mothers side Native American, Irish, French, English and it may be even more becouse my grandma was adopted and we dont know her heritage, but she does look like she may be atleast half native American.

Ive been asking some of my family members for years about my beard stubble, and according to my Norwegian family it is very strange that i cannot grow a full beard or mustache, some times i wish i could just Teleport cus im scared of flying, to the US and get to know my Grandpa that lives there, asking him about his Native american father and family as i believe thats where i get my Hardly any hair in my face genes.

Enough about me and my thoughts, nice reading about the history of beards.

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