Barber comes from the Anglo-French word Barbour, which is rooted in the Latin word for ''beard'', Barba.
Barbering is unsurprisingly an ancient profession with the earliest recorded example of a barbering razors discovered in ancient Egypt in 3500 BC being over 20,000 years old! The earliest records of men lead us to believe the barbers were among the foremost people in their tribes. they were seen as medicine men, priests, and religious figures. We are not talking Catholicism here either, primitive men were incredibly superstitious. believing in good and bad spirits which were seen to enter the body through the hair on the head and subsequently must be removed/driven out the body by removing the hair. I can personally assure you we try and drive out all bad spirits with every cut we provide! also most men in this period preferred to remain clean shaven to prevent and avoid skin diseases. Barbers would also perform religious ceremonies such as weddings and baptisms.
Barbering was introduced in Rome in 296 BC with all Free men of Rome being required to be clean shave and all slaves required to wear a beard, hence the word 'Barbarians' as the name used during that period to describe the bearded tribes.
during the third century, BC, Under the reign of Alexander the Great the Macedonians began their conquest of Asia and lost several battles with the Persians as they grabbed the Macedonians by their beards, pulled them to the grounds and speared them. This resulted in Alexander the great announcing a general order that all soldiers be clean shaven.
Now we move on to the strangest title us barbers had, the Barber Surgeon! it is literally what it sounds like! During the Middle Ages Barber Surgeons were considered one of the most common European medical practitioners. They were generally charged with caring for soldiers during and after battle. In this era surgery was never carried out by practitioners but Barbers, as they carried razors and coordination indispensable to their trade, who were called upon for numerous tasks ranging from cutting hair to tooth pulling, bloodletting, cupping therapy and even amputating limbs! these men often has less training than I have had!! that would not fill me with any confidence!!
During the Middle Ages catholic Monks have their very recognizable 'tonsure' (the baldness on the top of their head), this created a big market for barbers as each individual monastery had to hire and train a barber. these barbers would also perform bloodletting and other minor surgeries. The first barber surgeon that were recognized working in these monasteries was from around 1000 AD.
Normal recognition of their skills (in England) goes back to 1540, when the fellowship of surgeons merged with the company of barbers, a London livery company, to form the ‘Company of Barber-Surgeons’.
This was then put under pressure by the medical profession and in 1745 they parted ways and separately became the Barbers’ company and the company of surgeons. In 1800 a royal charter college of surgeons in London came to fruition.
Our final piece of barbershop history is about the barbers pole. Seemingly an object we have all associated with barbershops has a bit of a sinister meaning! During the era of barber-surgeons they needed to let people know the services that were provided within, they often used to leave bowls of blood in the window to advertise but they soon drifted away from this, then was born the barber pole! Red to indicate blood and white to indicate the bandages. The red and white was associated with surgeons and the white and blue was associated with barbering. When the two professions separated the barbers kept the pole.
Today I am sure you will be incredibly happy to hear that us barbers are not performing surgery, just performing hair miracles! Barbering is such an expressive and artistic job and from what you have just read a very fascinating trade with a very surprising history!
I am incredibly lucky to be 9 years into a career that I love and have done since I picked up my first pair of scissors in 2013! Thank you for taking the time to read about the history of our beloved trade.
Written By Olivea Reynolds – @TheMadHatterBarber