Monday, September 5, 2011


Hair and the Ages

By Richard Marsden



Throughout European history hair has been important enough to shed blood over. One would not want long, luxurious hair in the presence of a bowl-cut Parliamentarian of the 1600's, and certainly an ancient Roman would turn his nose at an outrageous beard and a short-hair peasant of Revolutionary France might get quite enraged at the sight of a powdered wig. Hair is important and its styles throughout time have been for practical purposes, but also for outrageous reasons as well. Here is a brief look at hair for men throughout the ages.

Romans - Romans built things to last. Their bridges still work, their roads still function and we have them to thank for concrete, the arch, American government, arenas and 'professional wrestling', which was known as 'gladiator games' in those days. The Roman empire at its height enabled a man to travel from Iberia to Jerusalem on Roman roads, speaking Latin, using coins with a Caesars face stamped upon them. Of all their enduring works, hair-style was one of them.

Popular now as much as it was back then, the Caesar-cut is a typical Roman style of hair that was popular with the soldier types. Cut short, there is nothing for an enemy to grab onto, neither lock nor beard. After all, only barbarians would wear endless facial hair. The Caesar-cut is also comfortable in warmer climates such as can be found in many Roman provinces in and around the Mediterranean.

Unlike the Caesar salad, which is named after Caesar Cardini, an Italian-American cook, the Caesar-cut is in fact named after Julius Caesar and modeled after his bust. His haircut, however, is little different from all Roman military men of the era.

Greeks, Goths and Vikings- Ancient Greeks valued their hair. Long, curly hair and full beards were seen as a sign of strength and vigor. When one thinks of a statue of Zeus, does not a long white beard come to mind as readily as a lightning bolt? Greek statues often depict men with full beards, while women and boys are shown as without hair. Beards indicated age, while a full head of hair showed vitality. In battle, the grabbing of an opponent's beard was considered a legitimate tactic. Greeks eventually saw the wearing of long hair as prideful, but the wearing of beards remained a staple. The Romans, who so often copied the Greeks, could never understand why they would embrace being so hairy.

The Germanic barbarians who sacked Rome and the Vikings who pillaged throughout the Dark Ages on the other hand fully concurred with full-bearded Greeks when it came how to wear one's hair. The typical 'Goth' wore his hair long, and though it was not as curly as that of the Greeks, it was impressive. No man would willingly lack some facial hair, if not a full beard then at least a long moustache! Such was a sign of youth and manhood. Only women and effete Romans were clean-shaven!

Did these Germanic and Viking barbarians inherit their sense of style from the Greeks? Possibly. Both old-German and Norse Gods bear many similarities to that of the Greeks and may be Germanized versions or adaptations. The Old Norse runic language may also have some Greek or ancient Latin influences as well.

Climate-wise, long hair and a beard is fitting for those dealing with cold weather. Perfect for your typical rampaging Goth or longboat-steering Viking. The beard and long hair help trap heat, and while somewhat difficultto manage when eating (much to the annoyance of Roman chroniclers) its practical value in icy conditions can't be ignored.

Normans- The King of France was so tired of Viking raiders that he invited one of them to simply settle down and become his noble rather than sail away back to frigid Norway. Thus, Rollo the Walker (he was too big for a horse) became Robert, First Duke of Normandy. Rollo, according to his statue, looked like your typical Viking with a long beard and long hair. However, the French had taken on many Romanesque customs and hairstyle was one of them. Rollo had a son, William Longsword, who had a son, Richard the Fearless, and eventually down the line there came another William. To his fans, William the Conqueror and to his foes, William the Bastard. William was a far-cry different in appearance from Rollo.

When William invaded Anglo-Saxon England he and his Norman knights had adopted more than just French names, they also took on a particular Frankish haircut as well. The Norman haircut was one where the back of the head and neck was shaved, while the front was kept short in a style similar to the Caesar-cut. Reasons for this haircut vary. For military purposes it is short and difficult to grab. The face is usually clean-shaven, or sporting only a moustache- also difficult grab compared to a large beard. Why the back of the head was shaved is debatable and reasons vary from it being a Christian-religious rite similar to how monks shave portions of their head, to being something practical and easy to manage. The style did not remain popular for long, and many of the Anglo-Saxon traditions of wearing long hair and beard were adopted by William's kingly descendants.


The Middle Ages- During the Middle Ages, the French, or Franks as they were more commonly known, dominated accepted culture in Western Europe. The Franks brought their sense of fashion abroad, including to such places such as Jerusalem during the Crusades. The Knights Templar were made up of a majority of Franks and the order had strict rules on behavior, including how to wear one's hair. Rule 22 for example, stated that a Templar should not wear pointed shoes (a sign of wealth because poor folk didn't wear such unpractical things) nor wear his hair too long as was custom among the nobility. Beards on the other hand were accepted since it was seen as a sign of wisdom, age and masculinity, but again rules were in place to prevent unruly facial-hair.

Knights and nobles customarily wore their hair and beards long, though more shaped and groomed than that of the prior era. Richard I, for example, is depicted in art and sculpture of having red hair, including a shaped and pointed beard as well as long hair that is worn in curls, or swept back.

In Western Martial Arts manuscripts, the wearing of a beard can be seen in Fiore's 'Flower of Battle' as potentially a sign of age and wisdom. In the manual the 'master' is often shown with a beard, while the 'student' is not in the section on the sword in two hands.

Not everyone agreed with the fashion of long hair and beards, however. Priests and monks shaved not only their faces but also portions of their heads. During the Hundred Years War the English Knight John Hawkwood wore his hair in the Roman-fashion and continued to do so during his lengthy and profitable stay in Northern Italy as a mercenary. Hawkwood was a practical, no-nonsense military-man, and his hairstyle was no exception. In the earliest Western Martial Art work, I-33, priests with clean-shaven faces and tonsured haircuts are shown performing the techniques.

The Renaissance - The Renaissance saw a rediscovery and re-appreciation of all things Roman. Long hair, while still fashionable well into the seventeen hundreds (with or without the help of a wig), was opposed by the good-old fashion Caesar-cut seen in many of the Renaissance paintings. Going clean-shaven became fashionable, and when beards were worn they tended to be short and well-shaped such as the fashionable Van Dyke or ducktail beard. Long, unruly hair, especially facial hair, was seen as a barbaric throwback, or something that Germans did. Peter the Great on his visit to France in the late 1600's, for example, returned to Russia and informed all of his Russian boyars that they could no longer wear ridiculous beards, going so far as to hand out measuring tape and scissors to the city-guards.He also banned spitting at the dinner table, walking on the dinner table, wearing giant cloaks and insisted men spend time actually talking to their wives.

Western Martial Arts manuscripts give a clue as to what was acceptable in the 1400-1500's. In Talhoffer's works the combatants have long hair, but clean-shaven jaws. Also of note is their preference of wearing pointed shoes.

Later works of the Germans in the 1500 and 1600's showed a return of the beard as something manly and martial. In Paulus Hector Mair's enormous encyclopedia on the use of weapons, nearly every combatant is shown sporting a beard, some as so long as to reach the waist! Vikings would be proud.

This fashion trend did not catch on in Italy though, where the rapier masters such as Capo Ferro, Giganti and Fabris depicted short hair and trimmed beards in their works.

In England the fencing masters of the 1600's sported trimmed beards, such as the ducktail and Ban Dyke, which can be seen in George Silver's work.

Baroque- The baroque era of the late 1600 and 1700's brought on numerous fashion-trends, with hair being particularly spectacular. In a martial sense, it didn't matter if one kept their hair long like an English cavalier, or short like a Parliamentarian roundhead. However, hair meant money. Men of wealth who did not have to work, wore their hair long and when their hair failed them opted on wigs. While men's wigs of the era didn't get as large or elaborate as noble women, privileged men did go so far as to powder their wigs white. Beards and moustaches, if they existed at all, were trimmed and neat. During France's revolution wigs, elaborate hair, and anything else connected to the Old Regime was detested. A young Napoleon, for example, wore his hair long and stringy while his face was clean-shaven. When he crowned himself Emperor in 1804 he had adopted a Caesar-cut, as well as the robes of a Roman Emperor. For a man who fought over sixty-battles, the traditional Caesar-cut was advantageous while on campaign.

Martial manuals are fairly uniform in depicting duelists with clean-shaven faces, and short wigs. Military manuals of the 1700's and early 1800's are similar, though light-cavalry men are shown sporting mustaches. This may be in relation to the light cavalry hussars adopting all things Hungarian, from style of clothing, to their saber system. The wearing of a long mustache was a popular style among the men of Eastern Europe.

1800's- While much of the Renaissance and Baroque period focused on a rebirth of Roman hairstyles, the 1800's was a time where beards and insane hair reigned! Mutton-chops were considered perfectly martial, giving one the appearance of a lion which can be a key psychological factor when facing down countless Zulus.

Marshal Murat wore his curly hair wild and free with long sideburns while he led Napoleon's armies. A beard was once again seen as a sign of age and masculinity, something of a major importance to Western Europeans and Americans at the time. Beards were rarely unruly though (country-folk did wear long and wild beards), and men of wealth fashioned their mustaches and beards like one might trim a hedge. In the United States, the South trended toward beards that were epic and monumental. In an era of gunpowder, where someone getting close enough to grab you in battle was rare, it seems titanic beards and mustaches were more than acceptable- they might even slow down a bullet.

WWI- WWI brought on the death of manly-facial hair for years to come. Gasmasks and handle-bar moustaches simply don't mix, and small moustaches, say one just under the nose, became only briefly popular in Germany and have since been only seen on people with enough 'street-cred' to get away with it- such as Michael Jordan. With lice and other critters being a problem in the trenches, shaved heads became mandatory in most martial conflicts- a trend that continues to this day.

Eastern Europe - In places like Poland, Hungary and the Ukraine, hairstyles were influenced by Western Europe, but also by the numerous invaders those places had to contend with including, but not limited to, Huns, Mongols, Turks, Russians, Teutonic Knights and one another. In the Ukraine a particular style of hair was to shave all but the top of the head, leaving behind a strand of hair known as an oseledet or crest. To have one's oseledet cut off was a great shame. Additionally, only warrior-men were entitled to wear their hair in such a fashion. Moustaches, meanwhile, were worn in a distinctly long and Asian style brought over from the various invaders from the East.

In Poland, a style of hair arose which was entirely derogatory known as the Polish plait. In this hairstyle, the hair was allowed to grow and purposefully left un-groomed until it became a single mass of hair, welded together by blood, pus, tangled hair and lice. Various superstitions of the 1600's encouraged the growing of the Polish plait and the King of Denmark, Christian the IV wore one. The style became fashionable in his court.

In Russia, the wearing of long hair and beards persisted throughout the ages, only coming to an end with the aforementioned decrees of Peter the Great. Given the Russian climate, their tendency to long-hair is understandable, but Peter felt that Russia was backwards and only with good grooming habits, and firearms, could the nation advance.

Your Hair and Your WMA- People in the Western Martial Arts community will go to blows about wearing the appropriate style of pants. Why not increase authenticity and wear the appropriate style of hair? Whether you're interested in Roman gladiators, Medieval knights, saber-wielding Cossacks, dueling nobles or Victorian saber-men, there is a style of hair for you. When all else fails get a Caeasar-cut and call it 'classical and timeless'. But if you want to excel at Western Martial Arts there is only one haircut that will improve your abilities. I shall leave that particular secret embedded mysteriously somewhere within this document.

6 comments:

Kunstfechter said...

The secret to HEMA, and especially Longsword, is LONG hair, I got long hair, I aint cut my hair is nigh over 6 year, and I am badass motherfucker, I'd be surprised if you aint shitting yerself right now just reading this. Ya bastard

B & C said...

Um, yeah.

Jon Pellett said...

This is flipping brilliant.

Kunstfechter said...

Now, see B you let me down. I had assumed (incorrectly), that you would have surmised I was piss drunk and simply deleted my previous comment, which, now that I am reading it soberly, I find to be rather less than amusing. And yet, given the distractions I was facing, it seemed like the thing to do at the time. so, um yeah, right back atcha brother. lol? did you at least smile, or what?

B & C said...

LOL. Yes. ; )

MMcQuown said...

I note that, at no time in this article, was there any reason or justification given for the existence of the 'mullet.' Which only goes to prove what a brilliant and well researched piece this was. Kudos!