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Barba. The Beard. - The Romans of the early ages were usually represented with a beard. "That there were formerly (says Varro) no barbers among them, is to be inferred from the appearance of ancient statues, which, for the most part, have much hair on their heads, and a great beard." Even at the time of the capture of their city by the Gauls, they had not adopted the practice of shaving the beard: this is evident from the insult that Livy relates to have been offered, by one of the invading army, to Marcus Paprius (in 390 BC) that barbers were employed at Rome; and these were at first sent from Sicily. Pliny states that the first Roman who shaved every day was Scipio Africanus. From this time on young men began to remove their beards. They commenced doing so at 20 or 21; and this practice continued till the age of 49, after which no shaving was allowed. One reason for wearing a beard was extreme youth, which according to Roman custom did not admit of its being yet cut. Another reason was some occasion of mourning. An example of both kinds is furnished on coins of Octavian. On this point, Eckhel observes (vi 76), that under his coinage of the year 37 BC, the portratures exhibit a beard of some growth. This appears to be at variance with the expression of Dion Cassius. who, speaking of the year 39 BC, says: "Indeed Caesar, then for the first time shaving off his beard, not only spent that festal day sumptuously himself, but to all the rest gave a public banquet. From that time, he keeps his cheeks smooth. as other people used to do." Nevertheless, coins of the period, all of which represent Caesar, triumvir for the 2nd time, with a beard, are testimonies that cannot deceive. To reconcile Dion's account, which refers to that event to the year 39 BC, with the fact of Octavian's waering a beard in 37 BC, as evidenced by the mintage that year, Eckhel finds an explanation in the practice above alluded to, of the Roman youth wearing their beards up to a certain age, that is to say, to the 21st year; and considers it probablr that having once laid his first beard aside, in accordance with the usual custom, Caesar shortly afterwards allowed it to grow again on account of some occasion of public mourning. In support of this view, the author of Doctrina cites Suetonius respecting Julius Caesar: "When news was brought of the Titurian slaughter, [a legion and five cohorts under Titurius Sabinus, destroyed by the Gauls under Ambiorix], he let his hair and beard grow till he had taken his revenge." And of Octavian, but after his accesion to the empire, Seutonius also remarks, "For they say, that he was so overwhelmed that for months he allowed his beard to grow, and sometimes used to dash his head against the doors." According to Plutarch, Mark Antony also let his beard grow ofter his entire defeat by Octavian and the consuls Pansa and Hirtus, in 43 BC,at the battle of Mutina. There is numismatic testimony of this fact on the obverse of a very rare denarius minted by that brave general Ventidius Bassus, whose eminent services to the subsequent triumvir met with no better requittal from him than the privilege of stamping his name P VENTDI and the titles of PONT and IMP on the reverse of a coin, the obverse of which presents a full bearded head of Mark Antony (with legend M ANT III V R P C) as in the engraving below.
In addition to the cause above alluded to, scarcely a single reason can be adduced why the head of Mark Antony should exhibit a beard on his early coins, except that he was mourning the death of Julius Caesar, whose life was of such importance to himself, and of whose murder he professed to be the avenger.
Cato likewise repudiated the use of the razor, on hearing of the disconfiture of his partizans at Thapius (46 BC). Eckhel thinks the reason for the public mourning in the case of Octavian may have been the formidable system of hostilities pursued by Sextus Pompey (83 BC): not so much towards himself as towards the state; supplies being at that juncture cut off, whilst famine extended its ravages; then when it came to a trial of arms, severe and repeated losses; and in addition to those public disasters, the disgrace attending them. When, however, on the defeat of Sextus Pompey, 36 BC, this state of things was put an end to, he returned to the accustomed fashion.
Of Caligua, Suetonius tells us that at the age of twenty, he assumed the toga, and laid aside his beard: and of Nero, that he did the same at the more advanced age of 22, and when he was already empreror, AD 68, a fact proved by his coins. After that period his beard was laid aside, and thus all emperors are found to exhibit smooth chins on their coins, from the time of Augustus to that of Hadrian.
Juvenal shews that the day on which the first cutting off of the beard to place, was sacred to rejoicings:
Ille metit barbam, crinem hie deponit amati,
Plena donus libia vanalibus.
[Here one reaps his crop of beard - there another lays aside the hair of his favourite; the house is filled with good cheer.]
The celebration of this event by princes was accompanied by various ceremonies and public solemnities. The same sort of feeling respecting the tender beard of the young heirs to empire was probably entertained, which is expressed in the words of Cicero: Nostri isti barbatuli juvenes, "those downy youths of ours."
It was Hadrian (emperor AD 117) who having publicly assumed the character of a philosopher, allowed his beard to grow as we see from his statues and coins. His example was followed by a long line of successors who, whenever their age allowed it, cherished this badge of manhood. According to Dion, Elagabalus adopted the shaving practice. At length Constantine the Great, AD 311, restored the practice of the first emperors and shaved his beard. His example was followed by his sons and all members of his family except Julian II (the Apostate), "the greater part of whose wisdom (says Eckhel) for he was a philosopher, lay in his beard." It appears that this prince while a private citizen wore a beard; but having been ordered to remove it when appointed Caesar, he does not exhibit a beard on the coins which give him that title. Those struck after he became emperor represent him either without a beard, or, as is more frequently the case, with a large beard. There can be no doubt that the coins without beard are in the early period of his reign. Becoming more secure in office, he once again grew a beard. He was openly ridiculed by the Antiochians for wearing, as they said, the beard of a goat, with hairs so thick and coarse, that ropes might be spun of it. By way of retort, the emperor replied: "you may do so, if you please, for aught I care; but I doubt, whether you would be able to pluck them out for the purpose, and am afraid their roughness will hurt your soft hands."
From the time of Jovian (Julian II successor AD 363) all the emperors again went without beards. The usurper Phocas [Focas] (AD 602) was the first, after this long interval, to revive the beard; and it continued in fashion till the fall of the empire.