Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Ancient History

First Advisor

James Ker


This dissertation is a cultural study of male facial hair in the Roman world. It approaches facial hair as a cultural symbol and employs an historical anthropological approach to access the various cultural meanings of this bodily feature. Additionally, by understanding facial hair to be a natural symbol, this dissertation also shows how facial hair played a role in the mediation between nature and culture, as well as between the body and society. At the root level, facial hair symbolized “wildness” or uncontrolled nature in Roman culture. As such, it was subject to varying degrees of control through cultus. This dissertation begins with a diachronic account of facial hair and its cultus. This reveals the role that facial hair played in expressions of masculinity and how facial hair and its maintenance were exemplary of the debate around masculine cultus – a debate which changed over time. Additionally, facial hair was viewed as a disguise, which might be put on or off and viewers could “unbeard” those whom they held to have false beards. It then explores the depositio barbae – the ritual first shave – and the role of facial hair in the transition between adolescence and adulthood. The depositio was both a vow for a long life and a symbolic first act of cultus which reigned in the uncontrolled nature of youth, a life stage symbolized by lanugo or downy facial hair. Next, it explores the role of facial hair in the mediation between the paradigms of human and animal, urban and rustic, and Roman and non-Roman. It then discusses the “mourning beard” as a symbol of voluntary and temporary withdrawal from society. Following this is an analysis of facial hair as a symbol of the temporal otherness of Rome’s male ancestors. Lastly, it evaluates facial hair as a symbol of divine otherness. By exploring facial hair as a cultural trope, this dissertation accesses meanings, but also how these meanings changed over time and how facial hair was polysemous. It also contributes to the understanding of masculine self-fashioning, as facial hair was an embodied symbol.


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