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p196 Barba

Article by Alexander Allen, Ph.D.,
on pp196‑198 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.


[image ALT: A bust of a middle-aged man with a close-cropped beard. It is a bust of the ancient Greek philosopher Agathon, in the Capitoline Museums in Rome.]

Bust of the philosopher Agathon
— whose beard is close-trimmed —
(Sala dei Filosofi, Capitoline Museums)

BARBA (πώγων, γένειον, ὑπήνη, Aristoph. Lysist. 1072), the beard. The fashions which have prevailed at different times, and in different countries, with respect to the beard, have been very various. The most refined modern nations regard the beard as an encumbrance, without beauty or meaning; but the ancients generally cultivated its growth and form with special attention; and that the Greeks were not behind-hand in this, any more than in other arts, is sufficiently shown by the statues of their philosophers. The phrase πωγωνοτροφεῖν, which is applied to letting the beard grow, implies a positive culture. Generally speaking, a thick beard, πώγων βαθύς, or δασύς, was considered as a mark of manliness. The Greek philosophers were distinguished by their long beards as a sort of badge, and hence the term which Persius (Sat. IV.1) applies to Socrates magister barbatus. The Homeric heroes were bearded men. So Agamemnon, Ajax, Menelaus, Ulysses (Il. XXII.74, XXIV.516, Od. XVI.176). According to Chrysippus, cited by Athenaeus (XIII p565), the Greeks wore the beard till the time of Alexander the Great, and he adds that the first man who was shaven was called ever after κόρσην, "shaven" (from κείρω). Plutarch (Thes. c.5) says that the reason for the shaving was that they might not be pulled by the beard in battle. The custom of shaving the beard continued among the Greeks till the time of Justinian, and during that period even the statues of the philosophers p197were without the beard. The philosophers, however, generally continued the old badge of their profession, and their ostentation in so doing gave rise to the saying that a long beard does not make the philosopher (πωγωνοτροφία φιλόσοφον οὐ ποιεῖ), and a man, whose wisdom stopped with his beard, was called ἐκ πώγωνος σοφός (compare Gell. IX.2; Quint. XI.1). The Romans in early times wore the beard uncut, as we learn from the insult offered by the Gaul to M. Papirius (Liv. V.41), and from Cicero (Pro Cael. 14); and according to Varro (De Re Rust. II.11) and Pliny (VII.59), the Roman beards were not shaven till B.C. 300, when P. Ticinius Maenas brought over a barber from Sicily; and Pliny adds, that the first Roman who was shaved (rasus) every day was Scipio Africanus. His custom, however, was soon followed, and shaving became regular thing. The lower orders, then as now, were not always able to do the same, and hence the jeers of Martial (VII.95, XII.59). In the later times of the republic there were many who shaved the beard only partially, and trimmed it, so as to give it an ornamental form; to them the terms bene barbati (Cic. Catil. II.10) and barbatuli (Cic. ad Att. I.14, 16, Pro Cael. 14) are applied. When in mourning all the higher as well as the lower orders let their beards grow.

In the general way in Rome at this time, a long beard barba promissa, (Liv. XXVII.34) was considered a mark of slovenliness and squalor. The censors, L. Veturius and P. Licinius, compelled M. Livius, who had been banished, on his restoration to the city, to be shaved, and to lay aside his dirty appearance (tonderi et squalorem deponere), and then, but not till then, to come into the senate, &c. (Liv. XXVII.34). The first time of shaving was regarded as the beginning of manhood, and the day on which this took place was celebrated as a festival (Juv. Sat. III.186). There was no particular time fixed for this to be done. Usually, however, it was done when the young Roman assumed the toga virilis (Suet. Calig. 10). Augustus did it in his 24th year; Caligula in his 20th. The hair cut off on such occasions was consecrated to some god. Thus Nero put his up in a gold box, set with pearls, and dedicated it to Jupiter Capitolinus (Suet. Ner. 12).

With the emperor Hadrian the beard began to revive (Dion Cass. LXVIII.15). Plutarch says that the emperor wore it to hide some scars on his face. The practice afterwards became common, and till the time of Constantine the Great, the emperors appear in busts and coins with beards. The Romans let their beards grow in times of mourning; so Augustus did (Suet. Aug. 23) for the death of Julius Caesar, and the time when he had it shaved off he made a season of festivity (Dion Cass. XLVIII.34; comp. Cic. in Verr. II.12). The Greeks, on the other hand, on such occasions shaved the beard close. Tacitus (Germ. c3) says that the Catti let their hair and beard grow, and would not have them cut till they had slain an enemy (compare Becker, Charikles, vol. II, p387, &c.).

Barbers. The Greek name for a barber was κουρεύς, and the Latin tonsor. The term employed in modern European languages is derived from the low Latin barbatorius, which is found in Petronius. The barber of the ancients was a far more important personage than his modern representative. Men had not often the necessary implements for the various operations of the toilet; combs, mirrors, perfumes, and tools for clipping, cutting, shaving, &c. Accordingly the whole process had to be performed at the barber's, and hence the great concourse of people who daily gossiped at the tonstrina, or barber's shop. Besides the duties of a barber and hairdresser, strictly so called, the ancient tonsor discharged other offices. He was also a nail-parer. He was, in fact, much what the English barber was when he extracted teeth, as well as cut and dressed hair. People who kept the necessary instruments for all the different operations, generally had also slaves expressly for the purpose of performing them. The business of the barber was threefold. First there was the cutting of hair: hence the barber's question, πῶς σε κείρω (Plut. De Garrul. 13). For this purpose he used various knives of different sizes and shapes, and degrees of sharpness: hence Lucian (Adv. Indoct. c29), in enumerating the apparatus of a barber's shop, mentions πλῆθος μαχαιριδίων (μάχαιρα, μαχαιρίς, κουρίς are used also, in Latin culter); but scissors, ψαλίς, διπλῇ μάχαιρα (Pollux, II.32; in Latin forfex, axicia) were used too (compare Aristoph. Acharn. 848; Lucian, Pis. c46). Μάχαιρα was the usual word. Irregularity and unevenness of the hair was considered a great blemish, as appears generally, and from Horace (Sat. I.3.31, and Epist. I.1.94), and accordingly after the hair-cutting the uneven hairs were pulled out by tweezers, an operation to which Pollux (II.34) applies the term παραλέγεσθαι. So the hangers-on on great men, who wished to look young, were accustomed to pull out the grey hairs for them (Arist. Eq. 908). This was considered, however, a mark of effeminacy (Gell. VI.12; Cic. Pro Rosc. Com. 7). The person who was to be operated on by the barber had a rough cloth (ὠμόλινον, involucre in Plautus, Capt. II.2.17) laid on his shoulders, as now, to keep the hairs off his dress, &c. The second part of the business was shaving (radere, rasitare, ξυρεῖν). This was done with a ξυρόν, a novacula (Lamprid. Heliog. c31), a razor (as we, retaining the Latin root, call it), which he kept in a case, θήκη, ξυροθήκη, ξυροδόκης, "a razor-case" (Aristoph. Thesm. 220; Pollux, II.32; Petron. 94). Some who would not submit to the operation of the razor used instead some powerful depilatory ointments, or plasters, as psilothron (Plin. XXXII.10.47;a acida Creta, Martial, VI.93.9; Venetum lutum, III.74; dropax, III.74; X.65). Stray hairs which escaped the razor were pulled out with small pincers or tweezers (volsellae, τριχολάβιον) The third part of the barber's work was to pare the nails of the hands, an operation which the Greeks expressed by the words ὀνυχίζειν and ἀπονυχίζειν (Aristoph. Eq. 706; and Schol.; Theophrast. Charact. c26; Pollux, VII.165). The instruments used for this purpose were called ὀνυχιστήρια, sc. μαχαίρια (Pollux, X.140). This practice of employing a man expressly to pare the nails explains Plautus's humorous description of the miserly Euclio (Aulul. II.4.34):—

"Quin ipsi quidem tonsor ungues dempserat,

Collegit, omnia abstulit praesegmina."

Even to the miser it did not occur to pare his nails himself, and save the money he would have to pay; but only to collect the parings in hope of making p198something by them. So Martial, in rallying a fop, who had tried to dispense with the barber's services, by using different kinds of plasters, &c., asks him (Epig. III.74), Quid facient ungues? What will your nails do? How will you get your nails pared? So Tibullus says (I.8.11), quid (prodest) ungues artificis docta subsecuisse manu; from which it appears that the person addressed was in the habit of employing one of the more fashionable tonsors. The instruments used are referred to by Martial (Epig. XIV.36, Instrumenta tonsoria).


Thayer's Note:

a Also in Hist. Aug., Elag. 31.7.


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