It’s March, and you know what that means, right?
It’s the month of Mars, the Roman god of war. And I know what you’re thinking: the Romans were shavers, unlike the Greeks. But so was yourdad, and he was probably pretty badass, too. But there’s kind of a misconception about the Romans and shaving. They had a whole weird religious thing about it, where they’d dedicate their first shavings to a god, and they’d let their beards grow in mourning for the dead. And they weren’t always beardless. The Emperor Hadrian brought beards back in force and several later emperor’s wore beards as signs of philosophical wisdom.
But Roman culture was big on law and order, maintaining peace, and doing business. It was against the law to carry a weapon inside the city limits, and citizens wore togas like bankers wear suits. They couldn’t fight wrapped up in all that wool, and they even had their one arms restricted by the wrapping as a sign that they weren’t armed or acting with any hostile intent.
Shaving went along with that for the Romans. But why was shaving a sign of peace? It may have been a symbol that they had the leisure and the money to pay someone to shave them, and that they felt secure enough in Rome to trust someone else with a blade.
So what does this have to do with March and the god Mars?
Mars has two forms in Roman art: young and beardless, based on artistic depictions of the Greek pretty-boy god of war Ares, or the native and ancient Roman form of Mars, fully mature with a great curly beard.
At first it seems like an odd reversal, that the famously bearded Greeks had a clean-shaven god and the famously shaved Romans had a bearded god. But Greek culture loved youth and poetry, and idealized youthful beauty. The Romans, however, were more practical, and in times of war they actually let their beards grow (even if they generally kept them short).
So the god Mars is a symbol of the Roman on the warpath. He’s a Roman who isn’t spending a lazy afternoon at the barber shop or sitting in the Senate house debating the trade laws. He’s out stomping his enemies into the dirt. You see a Roman with a beard, you better be afraid, because you know he means more than business.
I bet they’d have kept those wartime beards if they could beat the itch with a little Bluebeards Original.