The long and luxurious history of the beard spans millennia and species. Throughout our human cultural history, beards have faded in and out of relevance. Throw short-sided cultural whims aside, and instead look at the presence of evolution pushing our beards outward.
Biologists have characterized beards as secondary sexual characteristics and a benefit of sexual selection as humans evolved. That is to say, as we already knew that beards make men more attractive than those without, playing a role in the evolving man.
Even our boy Charles Darwin was behind this theory in which he wrote about it in The Descent of Man. Evolutionary psychology proves that beards continued on from our primate past into the future to signal sexual maturity and physical dominance through larger perceived jaws. Our natural Gaian prehistory gave us the beard from one species to another, but what did our invented culture do to the beard?
Early Cultural Relevance For Beards
There has always been a place for the beard in one form or the other. Our ancient civilizations including the Ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians revered their beards. In Egypt for example, the most elite would grow their beards out then dye and color them, sometimes even weaving gold thread into their beards. Think we could bring an old trend back?
Our Mesopotamian brethren even knew to oil their beards up, as did the Greeks. Ancient Greeks were the cradle of modern western civilization. Until Alexander The Great came around, beards were basically everywhere. The most badass Spartans would actually punish people by shaving off a part of their beard.
Roman culture didn’t shave for a while either until barbers came in and passed on the tradition of shaving. Many slaves during this time kept their beards, so one could see the cultural and socio-economic implications of having a beard during this Roman time.
It wasn’t until some time later that Roman Emperor Plutarch grew his beard to hide his scars and other elite Romans followed him.
Rome & The Philosopher’s Beard
Many people associate the so called “Philosopher’s Beard,” with the usual round of philosophical men; that being Socrates, Aristotle or Plato. During the 150’s BCE, a swinging time first saw bearded Greek philosophers come to Rome. These mens’ beards were in direct contrast to their clean shaven audience.
Thus began the intellectual association with the beard. Following this philosophical trend we had the most die-hard bearded man to live. He went by the name Epictetus. A stoic philosopher whose pupil went on to write the Discourses, a philosophical piece as important as Socrates’ work.
Epictetus was a bit of a renegade teacher, once stating he’d rather die than shave. His brand of philosophy was to live his idea of life and by that definition, his very beard was a sacred way of life. Rejecting regular conventions and instead embracing nature’s reason was how he decided to live his life.
Beards Leading Up To Our Current Age
In Europe and especially during the Middle Ages, beards followed the trend of the knight. Men of high status wore beards and they also signified honor amongst knights. Our time of Renaissance, where magnificent works of art and social reform were brought about unfortunately saw the rise of the razor again.
Getting closer to our American history, we found the most bearded men holding political office and trend during the 1800s. This was happening all over the world as major world leaders opted out of the shave, and instead let their manes flow. Karl Marx was an example of a new economic philosopher with his epic beard. You may have seen him plastered on an unopened college student’s copy of Das Kapital somewhere.
After our reigning Lincoln and subsequent Presidents faded, we went into a bearded Dark Age that slowly gained momentum in the mid 20th century to early 21st century. World War I and II ,which saw millions of men drafted were forced to shave and choose to remain so.
Signs of Cultural Revolution
A beautiful resurgence came during the mid 20th century in the form of the Beat Generation, our Hippie progenitors. What originally started in poetry slams and underground “tea” shops made its way into the cultural consciousness. The clean shaven robotic businessman quickly faded as the late 1960s and 1970s entered into the mainstream. Hippies and even regular working people grew their beards with pride. Artists like The Beatles and Jim Morrison helped this along as well.
Now we seem to have entered into another cultural consciousness step into the right direction of peak beard. But brothers, do not think this is a phase or another shift. We are self-aware of cultural forces that surround us. This is a way of life brothers that mother earth has gifted to us herself!