The first uses of beards were very utilitarian though the cavemen who grew them had no idea what that meant. Living in a cave could be a cold affair and warmth was the initial use but soon afterward they realized some of the more useful uses such as intimidating the neighbors and protecting themselves from flying objects such as next caves rocks coming over the fence.
The next evolution came from the ancient Greeks who saw them as a symbol wisdom and knowledge. The Spartans took it one step further and shaved off half a man’s beard to tell everyone else that they were cowards. A tradition later taken on by most drunken students to tell everyone else their mates were lightweights who passed out at parties.
Alexander the Great was not a great lover of the beard and made all his soldiers get rid of any facial hair so as not to have it used against them in battle. If only a tool for trimming beards had been invented then. It must have worked when you consider his success though the lack of beard is not mentioned in regards to this.
Ancient Bearded Times
The Romans didn’t like the beard to begin with either and the word barbarous means beard wearing. Which rings true as some of their fiercest foes the Gauls and Goths where beard wearing warriors who eventually conquered them. However, when Emperor Hadrian came to power the beard came back into fashion and it was said that he grew one to cover the scars he had gained in battle. Yet again though, it fell out of favor when Constantine converted to Christianity and saw it as a pagan symbol.
The irony of this has been generally missed as most religious leaders of history have sported some of the best beards in history including Zeus, Abraham, Samson and the main man, Jesus himself.
The Dark Ages saw a resurgence for the beard (possibly because nobody could see their beard to shave it) and some of the most prominent figures of this time famously wore their hair with pride. One group that immediately comes to mind… the Vikings, who some say were the ones who created the first beard comb.
Anglo-Saxon England was a time when everyone had beards except the clergymen who didn’t have one to show their devotion and celibacy, as well as the fact nobody like them.
Otto the Great was said to swear by his beard when making those difficult decisions. I guess we all need something to stroke before beheading someone.
Recent Bearded Times
Believe it or not, Royalty has not always loved the beard either and although Henry 8th was famous for his beard he placed a tax on having one, which was carried on by Elizabeth I. Spoilsports. Peter Ist of Russia took it one step further and had officials who had beards shave them off and wear a sign saying how ridiculous the beard was. Again, ironic seeing as some of the most creative and wild beards of history are attributed to our Kossak brothers.
However it takes a lot to keep a good beard down and it saw a comeback yet again in Victorian England where it was seen as a sign of masculinity and courage though Victoria herself never had one, officially that is.
The Beard Survey Says…
Nowadays, the beard seems again to be in the ascension as everyone from movie stars to athletes, politicians to laborers are sporting the beard with pride. In a recent survey, it was found that 33% of all Americans have beards and 55% of the world has a beard right now growing on their chins. In fact, the beard is now seen as a sign of maturity, power, status, and worn by highly respected people.
Indeed the famous playwright Ernest Hemingway has probably summed up what the beard is all about for hipsters, lumberjacks, Wizards and members of ZZ Top everywhere when he said:
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self and growing an awesome beard”
So with that in mind, I urge all men everywhere to go forth and grow a beard with pride.