The word barber was derived from the Latin term “barba” or beard, in English. To learn the complete history of barbering, we would have to turn back the clock a few thousand years.
Now, let’s travel back in time to know the history of barbering.
Egyptian Barbers 4,000+ BC
During the Bronze Age, barbers used oyster shells and sharpened flintstones for shaving. The early Egyptian civilization considers barbering as a regal profession, and they honored barbers accordingly.
Moreover, hairstyles were a part of early Egypt’s social class system. The slaves, clergy, and kings had distinct hairstyles to easily determine their role and class in society.
Greek Barbers 1,500 BC
In the 15th century BC, the Greek culture looks at beards as a symbol of strength and masculinity. Also, it’s considered a sign of wisdom and intellect in ancient Athens. Men would usually challenge each other based on the quality of their facial hair.
This means that barbers were an important part of society during this time as it's almost impossible to have a great beard without an excellent barber.
Rome Barbers 30 BC - 640 AD
Ticinius Mena of Sicily introduced shaving to Rome when he arrived in 296 BC. Shaving instantly became in vogue and barbers were then elevated to the highest position in society. Aside from providing haircuts and an area for discussing ideas, they also offered other services like hairdressing, manicuring, massaging, and applying special ointments.
The Romans valued the profession so much that they even created a statue in honor of Rome’s first barber.
The Early Christian Era - 1 AD to 1,000 AD
This era is called the Dark Ages as many people were uneducated and illiterate. Even a huge number of nobles can’t read and write. The most learned people during this time were the priests and monks. Since there were no professional surgeons, barbers were also tasked to perform minor operations and surgeries.
The barbers were the closest thing to a surgeon in this era, so they became the assistant of the clergy during operations and “bloodletting”. From then on, they were called surgeon-barbers.
Surgeon Barbers 1,000 AD - 1,745 AD
At this time, barbers were considered physician-surgeons and are the most important people in society. They did cauterization, bloodletting, tooth extraction, and other regular surgical duties. However, with all the advancements being made in surgery, it was hard for them to keep up.
People became skeptical and pressed for the separation of the professions.
Beyond the Surgeon Barbers 18th - 19th Century
Due to the separation, barbers became less important over time. They went back to their original job of shaving and hair cutting.
Fortunately, in the 18th and 19th centuries, wigs became a thing, so they found a new niche to work on.
The Rise (after the fall) Late 19th Century
The prominent barbers in society decided to establish a school for the barbers in Chicago to protect their rights and restore confidence in the profession.
Students who entered were given practical lessons in facials, hair styling, shaving, and other barber-related skills.
The Early 20th Century
Barbering became a full-time profession (like dentists and surgeons) in this century and it’s considered the greatest development of the profession.
A guide called “Terminal Methods” was even established as grounds for the sterilization and sanitation of equipment. Barbers who wouldn’t follow these methods would risk losing their clientele.
The Modern Times
The barbering profession has evolved a lot these days. With the help of technology, barbers can experiment and hone their skills. Competition is also tough, so they have to stay at the top of their game all the time to satisfy their clients.
Barbering is considered to be one of the oldest professions in human history. So the next time you see a barber, congratulate him for being a part of this age-old fraternity that dates back to more than 6,000 years.