Razor blades have been discovered among Bronze Age artefacts, implying that the barber's art of cutting hair and shaving beards is a centuries-old profession. Barbers were also prominent members of their tribe, serving as either medicine men or priests, according to early records. Evil spirits invaded individuals through the hair and occupied the body, according to primitive men. Getting a haircut was the only way to get rid of these evil spirits.
Ancient Egyptian temples and papyrus show people shaving, and Egyptian priests were shaved every three days, according to legend. Barbers have been a part of Greek culture since the fifth century BC, and barbers were first introduced to the Romans in 296 BC, when Ticinius Mean brought the art of shaving from Sicily. These barber shops, just like today, were the place to go to gossip. They were alive with the talk of free men, who were distinguished from slaves by their lack of beards. Barbers were held in such high regard by the Romans that a monument was erected in honour of the first Roman barber.
Shaving was also used in military tactics. The Persians beat Alexander the Great's men by grabbing their enemies' beards and pulling them to the ground before spearing them. Later, Alexander demanded that his soldiers be shaved so that they could use the same tactics.
Barbers were much more flexible back then, conducting dental and surgical procedures such as tooth extraction, bloodletting, enemas, and wound surgery. After the archbishop of Rouen prohibited the wearing of a beard, the first official organisation of barber-surgeons was established in 1096 in France.
As medicine began to establish itself as a distinct discipline, attempts were made to distinguish barber-surgeons from academic surgeons. The College de Saint Come, established about 1210 AD in Paris, was the first to accomplish this, classifying barber-surgeons as short-robe surgeons and academic surgeons as long-robe surgeons. By the middle of the 13th century, the Brotherhoods of St Cosmos and St Domains had founded a school in France to train barbers in surgery.
The World's Oldest Barber Organisation
The Worshipful Company of Barbers, the world's oldest barbershop, was established in 1308 and is still active in London. Barbers and surgeons formed a guild in 1391, and barbers were admitted to the University of Paris in 1505. Ambroise Paré (1510-1590), the founder of modern surgery and the most prominent surgeon of the Renaissance era, began his career as a barber-surgeon.
Edward IV established the Company of Barbers in England in 1462, and surgeons formed their own guild 30 years later. In 1540, Henry VIII merged the two guilds into the United Barber-Surgeons Company, but they remained separate.
Barbers were not permitted to perform surgery except for bloodletting and teeth pulling, and they wore blue and white poles, while surgeons wore red and white poles and were not allowed to cut hair or shave people. In 1743, Louis XV of France decreed that barbers should not perform surgery, and two years later, George II of England passed several acts separating surgeons from barbers.