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Coiffure Legendaire: the amazing history of the Roman Barbers

Sunday, 16 March 2014 12:21

The first barbers in Sicily were introduced in the Ancient Rome by Ticinio Menas, the first representative of hairdressers, around the year 350 BC.

Latino literary texts know that first barbers, called tonsors, at the time of the Republic were associated in local corporations, as other craftsmen, to provide mutual assistance, thus the interests of the profession to confront competition of the slaves. These associations had internal regulations and tax benefits, but it's unknown how the learning between the tonsors system worked. We do know that trainees received the name of circitores.

The tonsors were part of the daily life of the Romans, which devoted special attention to the care of the body, beauty and hairstyles. As already in the Ancient Egypt, barbers were on the streets and taverns looking for customers. While in the neighborhoods they could work in the street, we also know there's evidence of the existence of the tonstrinae, the shops where they worked in a more fixed manner. They cut hair, shaved and cut beards, did the manicures, pedicures, depilation... full implementation in the hands of these tonsors could involve long hours for Roman citizens.

Barbers could win public recognition, wealth, and popularity. Such a Thalamus, for example, was the Barber of Nero. And another, Pantagathus, went down in history for his ability. There were also cases of angry customers by having been badly shaved and, consequently, wounded. But keep in mind that softeners for shaving or shaving foams had not been invented! Latino poets even describe shaving as a slow, delicate, sometimes painful and traumatic process.

The tonsors used tools already very developed, such as blades or knives, usually made in bronze. These blades they led to a scissor-like contraption called forfex, which were formed by two blades connected by a curved part in the shape of Horseshoe; they would later evolve to contemporary scissors. Also used Combs (pector), mirrors of polished bronze, iron curl (calamister), pincers tweezers (volsella), ointments and perfumes.

When a young Roman was shaving their beard for the first time they usually were celebrating a feast. It was a ceremony or rite of transit called depositio barbae, which was normally done at age twenty-one, in which small sections of hair was put in a special container which was then offered to the gods, typically to the god Jupiter.

By Raffel Pages

More information: www.museumraffelpages.com

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