First century historian, Suetonius, records that Julius Caesar was a Roman dandy. He engaged a personal Tonsor who would keep his hair and beard fastidiously groomed. Julius preferred to have his whiskers removed with tweezers.
No one shaved himself, not even slaves. Men who were unable to afford a private barber could visit one of the numerous public shops. However, even the neighborhood salon was expensive. Barbers were known to take early retirements as wealthy land owners or horsemen.
The tonsor shop was furnished with waiting room benches and wall hung mirrors. Clients sat on a stool in the center of the room while his hair or beard was styled with iron implements. Scissors had angled fixed blades with no ring holes for the barber’s fingers. This created a very irregular cut referred to as “steps.”
Claudia Procula’s grandfather, Emperor Augustus, had little patience for haircuts. Neither did her adopted-father, Tiberius, who wore his thinning hair untidily long at the nape of his neck. Tiberius would only allow it to be trimmed when the moon was in conjunction with the sun. His bald spot, considered a deformity, was concealed with the classic “comb over.”
The daily shave was an essential ritual for both Augustus and Tiberius. In fact, a Roman’s first shave was literally a religious ceremony. Augustus’s ‘depositio barbae’ was recorded as September, 39 B.C. These first beard clippings were sacrificed to his favorite deity.
Visits to the barber were a dreaded and painful experience. Razors were only lubricated with spit before being passed over dry skin. The resulting facial gashes were plastered with a mixture of spider webs blended with oil and vinegar. This same rusty knife was also used for cutting finger nails.
“With salve you smooth your cheeks, and with hair-eradicator your bald pate: surely you are not afraid, Gargilianus, of a barber?” – Marcus Martialis 41-104 AD
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Excerpt from Ancient Minutus