Boys' Hair Styles: Ancient Civilizations

Figure 1.--.

any ancient civilizations considered hair and especially beards as symbols of virility and manliness, presumably because boys and women could not grow them. Added to the problem was the greater difficulty in cutting hair and shaving in ancient civilizations. Archeologists have unearthed bas-reliefs and and statuary of the ancient civilizations, such as the Assyrians, Persians, and Egyptians, which clearly show that these and other ancient people subjected the hair of the head and beard to a number of decorative processes, including curling, anointing, dyeing, and adorning the hair with ribbons and other objects, including valuable objects of gold and silver. Even in these ancient civilizations, the use of the wig was common to conceal baldness.

In some of these societies, more attention was given to male hair dressing than female hair dressing. Women's hair dressing was more elaborate than others. Conventionms varied greatly. For many of these early civilizations, long hair was popular for men as a sign of masculinity and virility. There was, however, considerable variation as well as change over time. The Romans and Jews considered long hair on men as efeminate while other scocities considered in a sign of great verility. Little information is available on children's hair, but considerable information describe adult fashion trends, show casing the wide variety of styles and fashion conventions.

Primitive Civilizations

Primitive societies had both long and croped hair, often held in place by a fillet or band. Often high status indviduals swould wear more complex, destinctive styles.


Nobel women in Summeria wore heavy netted chignons, rolls, and plaits. Others let their hair fall thick over the shoulders. The truly rich powdered it with gold or cented yellow starch. They used gold hairpins and other ornaments to adorn it.

Babylonia and Assyria

Men wore long hair and dyed it and their square beards black. The crimped and curled them with curlong irons.


Persian nobelmen also curled their hair and beards. They used henna for a red stain.


Hair styles in Ancient Egypt varied, understandable in a civilization that spanned a millennium. Eventually the Egyptians developed a distaste for hair and had it shaved off. It was a practicalmapproach for both coolness and clenliness in the tropical Egyptian climate. Adults for ceremonial occasions wore plaited and braided--heavily stylized wigs. Baldness became a fashionable custom for both adult men and women. Shaving hair became incorporated into Egypt's religion--it was judged not only unsightly but evil. Paintings and carvings show clean shaven Egyptians conquering and trampling over row after row of hairy foreigners. Egyptians not properly sheared risked offending the gods. Priests had their heads and entire bodies shaved three times a week. The wealthy were visited daily by barbers who both shaved and plucked hair. There were many open-air barber shops for the average Egyptian. Boys were not completely shaved. They wore a long lock of natural hair falling to the shoulder. (Note the similarity to Orthodox Jewish boys.) Egyptian boys looked forward to growing older and having their locks shorn so they could look like their parents.

Egyptian sculptures and murals show that feminine hair styles could be very elaborate. Often women shaved theirheads and wore wigs with the heavily stialized hair. Three styles of feminine hair dressing pervailed. One, the hair was divided into numerous locka and tresses, each thickly plaited. Two, the hair was divided into numerous long parallel braids, grouped into two masses, the smaller falling in front of the shoulder and the larger behind. Three, the hair was divided into two broad or flat braids, one on each side of the head, the back hair being cut short.

Ancient Hebrews

Hair received considerable mention in the Bible. I do not know of references to boys' hair but there are several tales about hair: Sampson and Delilah, David and King Hanun of the Ammonites, and David and his son Absalom. Among the ancient Hebrews, a head of thick hair was held in high esteem. A bald man might be suspected of leporacy. In later times, however, the Jews adopted the shorter hair increasingly common in the Roman wirkd and came to view long hair as evidence of effeminancy. During the time of the ancient Jewish kingdoms, Jewish women wore their hair long, sometimes curling or plaiting it. After the Exile, in the first century of the Christian era, Jewish women customarily cropped their hair upon mairring.


The Minoans hair was dark with long ringlet curls.


Greek hair styles varried over time with both long and short hair predominating.

Greeks in the classical era wore their hair long. They had to braid it in topknots on the top of their heads and needed hairpins to hold it in place. The Spartans whose named has become synonymous with simple or austere, in fact spent hours before battle combing their hair. All the classic Greek heros, such as Achilles and Hercules, had long hair. Only late in Greek history, about the 4th century BC or Alexander the Great's time, did short hair begin to be fashionable with young Greeks. The Greek philosopher Diogenes searched the streets of Corinth for "an honest man," which among other characteristics meant long hair and a beard. He is said the have asked the short haired, beardless youth he encountered, "Have you shaved because you are disappointed you were created a man instead of a woman?" It was Alexander who popularized short hair and shaving when he ordered his soldiers to shave. The beard in effect was a handle that a enemy could seize. [Bill Severn, Hair: The Long and Short of It (David McKay: New York, 1971), p. 24.] Civilians imitated the military fashion, a fashion tendency which occurs again and again.

One soure claims that Greek boys generally wore their hair long, although there were differences among the various city states. Anothere source says boys wore their hair short. Many sources do not make the time frame to which he refes very clear. There were also differences between individual city states. Boys upon attaining adulthood at 18 years would have their hair cut short like adults. Men wore their hair short and curled it into small ringlets. Spartan boys were an exceptian to the general rule. Spartan boys wore their hair short and adults let it grow long.

Greek women dressed their hair elaborately. They often parted it down the center of the crown, then bringing it down over the temples, next bringing the two divisions toward the back, finally fastening the two divisions over the point where the part began or tied in a tuft or knot at the back. The tied knot was usually covered with a hood or net. Women dusted their hair with color and adorned it with flowers, ribbons, and even jewled tiraras. The curling of hair was so common that it gave rise to a new industry--hair dressing. Some authors attribute the first hair dressers to Athens, but it seems likely that hair dressers existed in other earlier civililizations. The wealthywould more commonly have their hair styled at home by domestic slaves. After the 4th century BC, male hair styles became simplier while female coiffures became more elaborate.


Roman women during the austere Republican period wore their hair in a simple, natural style. This changed after the Republic fell to the Empire. Women's styles adopted styles that varied from the elaborate to the fantastic. These styles included numerous plaits and curls. Women with inadequate hair for the elaborate styles, would add hair purchased for that purpose. Particularly popular was the blond hair of captives from the Germanic tribes with which Rome was constantly at war. The Romans gave much more attention to women's hair than mens' styles. Women wore elaborate and varied chair styles, straight, curled, bleached, dyed, wire frames, wigs, and other styles. One source indicates that harlots had to bleach their, but that bleached or blond hair eventualluy became stylish.

Romans men at first wore their hair long. After about 300 BC it became increasingly common to wear hair cropped short, a style which persisted for centuries. Most men wore cropped hair as opposed to the Germanic barbarians they faced at Rome's borders who wore their hair long. Some balding men also wore wigs, curled, perfumed, and oiled. Other simply painted their heads. Younger dandies letting their hair grow long or curling it were accused of looking too much like women.

The Christians were also critical of these excesses. Early Christian leaders questioned the morality of the excesses of Roman hair dressing, especially wigs "counterfeit" hair. Saint Paul addressed the debate in one of the churches he founded as to how men should wear their hair, "Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom ...." [Corinthians XI, 14-16] Later Christian moralists have hotly debated the meaning of Paul's instructions. It was the early Christian reaction to long hair which has for centuries influenced how Western society looked on long hair.


Noble rank among the ancient Gauls was indicated by long hair, which Caesar made them cut off as a sign of sub mission when he conquered them.


Hindu boys shaved their heads when they reached adolescence.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: December 27, 1999
Last updated: November 12, 2000