Did Ancient Slavs shave?
Since ancient times the beard was a sign of virility, wisdom, strength, and power. A man whose beard was forcefully shaved off was disgraced. Beards were symbols of prophets, kings, apostles, patriarchs, and even Jesus Christ himself. But not all the people would agree with that, Lucian of Samosata, a Greek satirist and writer, famously commented, ‘If you think that to grow a beard is to acquire wisdom, a goat with a fine beard is at once a complete Plato.’
Beard on Ancient Slavic means wealthy by Rod ( Boroda).
Being able to grow a full beard at that time was a sign of high status and wisdom. So before making conclusions I have to start with other Ancient people.
Throughout history, wearing facial hair or choosing to be clean-shaven has often become symbolic of a generational difference. In the ancient world, older men equated beards with sagacity, but as the fashion for shaving grew more widespread, younger men began to ridicule the sight of a man with a full beard.
It has been determined that in Western Europe, most of the Germanic tribes favoured the bearded appearance. The Franks, on the other hand, shaved. Rulers of the Carolingian dynasty, including Charlemagne, also did not grow beards – in the 9th century miniatures, men are usually portrayed with mustaches and bare chins.
The men of ancient Rome had a more ambiguous relationship with beards. They found the long curled beards of the Greeks somewhat off-putting, and those Romans who chose to wear beards tended to keep them clipped and neat. Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, King of Rome in the sixth century BC, is said to have introduced the razor to his countrymen and tried to encourage the habit of shaving. A century later, the fashion had finally caught on. By the second century BC, Pliny was reporting that the Roman general Scipio Africanus shaved every day.
As fashion was dictated by the whim of the current emperor, when Hadrian, in the first century AD, wore a beard to disguise his blemished skin, facial hair once more became fashionable.
Alexander the Great insisted his soldiers shave before battle. His reasoning was that, in close combat, a beard could be grasped and used to pull an opponent off his horse. He therefore hired an army of barbers to shave his soldiers on the night before a battle.
Beard was later accepted in Orthodox Christianity as one of the symbols of being Christian but on the other hand, chatolic church though opposite.
At mass on Christmas Day in 1105, a Bishop Godfrey was said to have refused Holy Communion to any man who had come to church unshaven. By this date the beard was being perceived in Britain as blasphemous and ‘unchristian’
Northern Slavs grew beards and revered them since ancient times, long before the adoption of Christianity. In Russia, it was believed that every man must grow a beard, because it was a sign of virility, wisdom, and strength. The beard was given a lot of attention through maintenance and care. There was no insult worse than spitting into another man’s beard.
However, some experts believe that the pagan Southern Slavs (including Kievan Rus) were beardless. Descendants of Sclavinians were more into mustaches and having long hair with braids, something that survived on the Balkans until 20th century and what is kinda becoming popular in Poland again(long hair with braid)
Bulgarian chronicles say that Bulgarian man would shave every other day. During the time of Ottoman invasion, Ottomans forbid Balkan Slavs from having mustaches, shaving a beard was not mentioned because it was not popular among Balkan Slavs.
During the first Serbian uprising we can see all Serbian heroes with big mustaches and braids but not with a beard (Aleksa Nenadović is a great example). Only those that were priests could have a beard such as Prota Mateja Nenadović. Since old beliefs all together with old pagan faith are the best kept among orthodox Balkan Slavs( especially Serbs who are the only people that still celebrate Slava) I believe that beard was not popular among Slavs before christianity. Slavs had long hair wth braids and would have big mustaches but not beards.
Historians explain this difference between the bearded and the beardless Slavs with climatic conditions of the country: the weather in the north is cold, and the beard protects and warms the face; the climate in the south is much warmer or maybe with Viking influence (since Vikings didnt shave)
But in the 10th century, Russia was officially baptized, converting to Christianity. Following the example of the Byzantine clergy, Russia adopted the beard as the symbol of ancient Biblical prophets and Christ’s apostles, thereby reconfirming the already existing folk tradition of maintaining a full beard. This, in turn, made the beard a symbol of both Russian nationality and the Russian faith.
Even Ivan the Terrible apparently said that shaving the beard was a sin so great, it could not be washed away by all the blood of martyrs. Russian priests refused to give blessings to the beardless. Patriarch Adrian once said, “God gave man a beard; only cats and dogs go without.” Damage to the beard came with a particularly high penalty, 12 hryvnia, which was about a third of the penalty for killing a man.
In the era of the Time of Troubles (a period of Russian history between the death of the last Rurik Tsar in 1598 and the ascension of the Romanov dynasty in 1613), beard-shaving was considered a Western custom and was associated with conversion to Catholicism. For example, False Dmitri I (first of the many false pretenders to the throne) shaved. His lack of beard was seen as a betrayal of the Orthodox faith and proof that he was an imposter.
Peter I was the first to make drastic changes to the boyars’ appearance, by a decree to abandon beards. The tsar was famous for his desire to make the Russia Empire resemble Germany or the Netherlands (and other developed European countries), and Russian clothing and long beards were not to his liking.
Shaving the beard was at odds with the traditional orthodox conceptions of male beauty and dignity, so the decree caused massive disapproval and protests. Peter I banished the dissenters, and executed the disobedient. There were uprisings across Siberia, which were suppressed by the troops. Punishments for disobedience and revolt were hanging, drawing and quartering, the wheel, burning at the stake, and impalement.
In 1705, seeing so much resistance among the people, Peter I replaced his decree with another law, which required all men, except for the clergy, to shave. The dissenters could pay a fine (the amount depended on their social rank) and receive a metal token (beard kopek) in return, which served as receipt of payment of the beard tax. Peasants were not required to shave, but they were levied a kopek “per beard” entrance tax each time they came into the city (by comparison, the cheapest beard token cost 30 rubles, at 100 kopeks to a ruble).
The conclusion is that the beard was definitely popular among Russians, maybe even because of the influence of Vikings but not among Balkan Slavs and even on the territory of modern Ukraine and western Poland. I can’t be sure about West Slavic people but I believe that before Christianity people did shave by looking at traditional polish haircut that reminds on traditional Balkan Slav and Ukrainian.
My conclusion is that a beard was not a Slavic thing.
+EXTRA ( Today)
As someone who traveled across the Balkans and also Poland, Czechia and Russia I have to notice one thing. Mustaches are incredibly popular among older Polish people!!! I was amazed when I saw how many people have the same mustaches as Adam Malysz. I barely saw any Russian with beard or mustaches while Serbs seem to laziest when it comes to shaving. It is hard to find clean shaved Serb while most of the people have a beard that is 2-3 days old. You can find some really big beards in Serbia too.