The history of barbering actually goes back as far as the Bronze Age of ancient Egypt, approximately 3500 BC. Archeologists have unearthed razors dating back to that time, as well as written recordings that speak of barbers as respected individuals in that culture. In fact, the earliest barbers were actually priests and medicine men, since it was believed that evil spirits could enter a person’s body through their hair. It is fascinating to think of how this profession evolved into the barbershop culture that we know today.
Ancient Greece had its own barbers as well. These men were called κουρευς, and they specialized in trimming and styling men’s beards, hair and fingernails. They also provided an important social gathering place for men. The Greeks introduced barbering to the Romans when they colonized Sicily in 296 BC, and it quickly became a social institution there as well, just as the public baths were.
In the European Middle Ages, barber served even more important roles as dentists and sometimes even surgeons. They performed duties such as bloodletting, enemas, fire cupping, leeching and teeth-pulling in addition to cutting hair. This is where the red and white barber pole came from; it signified surgery with the red stripe and barbering with the white. Barbers would also clean the ears and scalp, drain boils, lance cysts, and manipulate stiff or injured necks. Surgeons were actually considered lower in social status than barbers, up until the time that surgeons started serving on British warships.
These days, barbers pretty much stick to cutting hair, shaving and/or trimming beards and mustaches. The barbershop still serves an important function as a place of social gathering as well as a place for a man to get his hair cut. Some barber shops even serve beer and offer entertainment, such as movies and video games to keep clients around for longer periods of time. The barbershop has become a bit of a niche business, though, as more and more men grow their hair out and only return to have it cut every couple of months or longer.
Additionally, a lot of men simply go to the same salons that women go to. Barbershops are still very popular among military personnel and other men who keep their hair very trim and their faces very clean-shaven, though. Hopefully, the history of barbering is nowhere near a completed story, and there will be barbers practicing for generations to come.