The Greeks. The Romans. The bedrock of Western civilization. From the still-standing ruins of the ancient Roman colosseum to the inspired architecture of American buildings such as the Capital Building in Washington, Greek and Roman influence can still be felt to this very day, more than two thousand years later.
When most people conjure up images of the Greeks and Romans they picture images of robed philosophers debating, or of slaves desperately trying to fight off lions in arenas, or perhaps most striking, of columns of Roman soldiers marching forth and ‘civilizing’ barbarian Europe.
Of course, there was a lot more to the Greeks and Romans. They had complex societies, codes, social mores and…grooming habits.
Strap in, because this post is going to teach you all about how the Greeks and Romans groomed themselves. Caution! You may be surprised by what you learn here!
The origins of Greek civilization start somewhere in the 9th century B.C., but it wasn’t until the 5th century that the Greeks really started to make a name for themselves in the history books, with the formation of the Delian League. The Delian League was an alliance of more than 150 Greek city-states, under the leadership of Athens, the greatest Greek city-state at the time, whose purpose was to fend off the encroachment of the greatest, most powerful empire at the time, the Persians.
It was also during this era that Greek ideas, architecture, philosophy and men such as Socrates, Hippocrates (known as the ‘Father of Western Medicine’) and Pleistarchus (king of Sparta) would bloom and shape the world forever.
To the Greeks, philosophy exercised the mind. Physical tasks and events, such as the Olympics, would then train and build the body. But, as they would soon find out, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to have sweaty, muscular men running around if their body hygiene was poor.
Their Love for Beards
The Greeks loved their beards. So much so, that a man having even part of his beard cut off (by any means) was considered to be quite shameful and humiliating. The Spartans would cut and shave off half the beard of any man who was convicted of cowardice on the battlefield. Growing thick, long beards was not only a fashion statement, it was the sign of a viral, masculine man. Greek men would often use hot tongs to force their beard even longer and curlier.
It designated manhood so much that Greek boys and teens were not allowed to cut their hair before their beards started to grow. When a Greek boy’s first beard follicles started to poke through their cheek, that’s when they are assuming to be reaching puberty.
For the Greeks, light skin and hair, unibrows, shaved groins and long, luscious beards (up until Alexander) were all the rage.
Although the Greeks would produce ground-breaking philosophical, scientific, economic and military ideas and events, their luck would not last forever, for in a few centuries there would be another people from the Italian peninsula, who would come to the rule the Western world.
In 509 BC Roman citizens would overthrow their king and create a republic, run by two consuls who were elected by the citizens and advised by a group of senators. By the third century BC the Roman Republic would stamp its foot firmly in place, nestled in between the two other great powers of its day, the Greek Hellenistic Kingdoms and the mercantilist power of Carthage (in modern day Tunisia). By the end of the second century BC, both Carthage and the Greek city-states had been fully-annexed (or wiped off the map in Carthage’s case) and the Western world was fully in the grasp of the mighty Romans.
Much like the Greeks, the Romans also had peculiar and notable ideas when it came to their personal grooming. Unfortunately, they don’t keep their beards like the greeks. That was a huge disappointment as the beards would have completed their civilization. The ideal Roman, as opposed to the ancient Greeks, is different in looks and ideology. Even though that doesn’t make them any better.
And so, we hope that the next time you are on vacation strolling about the Colosseum or the Acropolis, your picture of how these mighty people once looked should be a little clearer. Both the Greeks and the Romans made habits out of proper hygiene, albeit in different ways. And so, we leave you with this:
“No matter who you are, your grooming habits are highly important for the first impression. And it would not be too different from the two civilizations we covered in this piece“
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- A History of Cosmetics in Ancient Greece
- A History of Eyebrows
- How Has Roman Architecture Influenced Us