In Egypt, many centuries before Christ, barbers were prosperous and highly respected. The ancient monuments and papyrus show that the Egyptians shaved their beards and their heads. The Egyptian priests even went so far as to shave the entire body every third day. At this time the barbers carried their tools in open-mouthed baskets and their razors were shaped like small hatchets and had curved handles. The Bible tells us that when Joseph was summoned to appear before Pharaoh, a barber was sent for to shave Joseph, so that Pharaoh's sight would not be offended by a dirty face.
In Greece, barbers came into prominence as early as the fifth century, BC. These wise men of Athens rivaled each other in the excellence of their beards. Beard trimming became an art and barbers became leading citizens. Statesmen, poets and philosophers, who came to have their hair cut or their beards trimmed or curled and scented with costly essences, frequented their shops. And, incidentally, they came to discuss the news of the day, because the barber shops of ancient Greece were the headquarters for social, political, and sporting news. The importance of the tonsorial art in Greece may be gathered from the fact that a certain prominent Greek was defeated for office because his opponent had a more neatly trimmed beard.
The word "barber" comes from the Latin word "barba," meaning beard. It may surprise you to know that the earliest records of barbers show that they were the foremost men of their tribe. They were the medicine men and the priests. But primitive man was very superstitious and the early tribes believed that both good and bad spirits, which entered the body through the hairs on the head, inhabited every individual. The bad spirits could only be driven out of the individual by cutting the hair, so various fashions of hair cutting were practiced by the different tribes and this made the barber the most important man in the community.
In fact, the barbers in these tribal days arranged all marriages and baptized all children. They were the chief figures in the religious ceremonies. During these ceremonies, the hair was allowed to hang loosely over the shoulders so that the evil spirits could come out. After the dancing, the long hair was cut in the prevailing fashion by the barbers and combed back tightly so that the evil spirits could not get in or the good spirits get out. This rule by barbers was a common thing in ancient Asia. In fact, wherever there were legends and superstitions about the hair, the barbers flourished. To this day in India, the veneration of the hair continues and those who cut and dress the hair are important characters.
ORIGIN OF THE BARBER POLE
The modern barber pole originated in the days when bloodletting was one of the principal duties of the barber. The two spiral ribbons painted around the pole represent the two long bandages, one twisted around the arm before bleeding and the other used to bind is afterward. Originally, when not in use, the pole with a bandage wound around it, so that both might be together when needed, was hung at the door as a sign. But later, for convenience, instead of hanging out the original pole, another one was painted in imitation of it and given a permanent place on the outside of the shop. This was the beginning of the modern barber pole.