22 Sep 2023 - 23 Sep 2023 All day Room 1.04, Faculty of Classics, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge, CB3 9DA



  • Dawn LaValle Norman (Australian Catholic University)
  • Miles Pattenden (Australian Catholic University)
  • Lea Niccolai (University of Cambridge)


  • Michael Barbezat (Australian Catholic University)
  • Carlo Ferrari (University of Pisa)
  • Clayton Killion (Saint Louis University)
  • Lea Niccolai (University of Cambridge)
  • Dawn LaValle Norman (Australian Catholic University)
  • Miles Pattenden (Australian Catholic University)
  • Patricia Simmons (University of Melbourne, Emerita University of Michigan)
  • Hannah Skoda (University of Oxford)
  • Jerry Toner (University of Cambridge)


  • Simon Goldhill (University of Cambridge)
  • Mary Harlow (University of Leicester)
  • Miri Rubin (Queen Mary University of London)


Hair, as a bodily component, is readily changeable and renewable, but also highly visible and confronting, and so it often develops as a potent site of contested meaning. In many cultures, a person’s hair itself, its absence or arrangement, and behaviours surrounding it are key markers of identity variables such as age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, belonging, political association or exclusion – as well as religious affiliation or piety. The challenge for scholars is how to ‘read’ hair in a given context, situating it amongst many potential meanings.

Our workshop aims to advance methodology for such interpretations in historical settings via a focus on the intersections between hair and religion in pre-modern and modern societies, considering how hair and beards acquire religious meaning, and how religious imperatives shaped rituals involving hair (e.g. shaving, adorning, covering up) or the treatment of hair that has been removed from the body (e.g. locks of hair used in magic or as relics).

The event further addresses a specific gap in historiography in which much less attention has been paid to male hair, including beards and body hair, compared to female hair. For men, how to grow, shave, and groom hair are daily choices above and beyond the styling of head hair that can advertise such affiliations and entwine entire identities and ontologies of belief.

Day 1 will see a cross-disciplinary group of international scholars interested in religious history and the moral arguments for different styles of male grooming discuss short pre-circulated papers (ca. 3000 words each) cutting across the key historical periods (antiquity, medieval, and early modern).

Registered participants will be sent a link to access the papers in preparation for the event.

Day 2 will consist of a demonstration in the Cast Gallery of the Classics Faculty dedicated to exploring the many languages of hierarchy that hair has spoken in the Greco-Roman past.

In the exhibition, we will confront head-on the meanings of Greco-Roman hair-styling by cutting and styling the hair and beards of willing volunteers into those sported by elite and lower-class individuals of the Roman empire. Academics from the Godly Grooming project will offer live commentary.

We hope to attract historians of the body, of gender, and of religion working on diverse religious traditions and pre-modern societies.

If you have specific accessibility needs for this event please get in touch. We will do our best to accommodate any requests.

Supported by:

CRASSH grey logo   University of Cambridge Museums and Botanic Garden logo Arts Council England logo Faculty of Classics logo





Friday 22 September

11:00 - 11:15

 Registration and coffee

11:15 - 12:45

Panel 1

‘Roman plucking’
Jerry Toner (University of Cambridge)

‘Bearded brothers: monastic facial hair in the high Middle Ages’
Michael Barbezat (Australian Catholic University)

‘Shaving faces in religious communities: theory, practice, and visual dynamics’
Patricia Simons (University of Melbourne, Emerita University of Michigan)

Respondent: Mary Harlow (University of Leicester)

12:45 - 13:30


13:30 - 15:00

Panel 2

‘Male hair and medical discourse in Clement of Alexandria’
Clayton Killion (Saint Louis University)

”Long hair, oxcarts, and sea beasts: reconsidering Merovingian sacral kingship’
Carlo Ferrari (University of Pisa)

Respondent: Simon Goldhill (University of Cambridge)

15:00 - 15:30

Coffee break

15:30 - 17:00

Panel 3

‘The Spaces of male grooming in 2nd-3rd century Mediterranean: the evidence from Clement’
Dawn LaValle Norman (Australian Catholic University)

‘How did the medieval heretic get his beard?’
Hannah Skoda (University of Oxford)

‘Platonic hair’
Lea Niccolai (University of Cambridge)

Respondent: Miri Rubin (Queen Mary University of London)

17:00 - 18:00

Drinks reception
Cast Gallery, Faculty of Classics

Saturday 23 September

13:00 - 15:00

We pile meaning on our hair, changing the cut, style and colour to influence how the world sees us – and how we see ourselves. Hair is always with us and is a part of our body which we can modify at will. And if this is true today, it was also true in the ancient past. So for one afternoon only, we’re going to be getting hands-on with ancient hair and embodying the styles of the classical past here in our atmospheric Cast Gallery.

  • Live haircutting! Our experts and professionals will be styling up a storm as you watch, as we cut and style the hair (and beards!) of our willing volunteers, while our historians are on hand to answer your questions.
  • Free face painting! You don’t need to have a beard to wear a beard – we’ll paint it on.
  • Bold beards and bewitching braids! Our family trail helps you find out even more facts about hair while you explore our gallery.
  • Cut it out! Hands-on crafts so that you and your littles can make your own beards and accessories to take home.


  • Mary Harlow, expert on ancient women’s hairstyles, will be doing up-dos of dizzying heights.
  • The stylists at douce in Eddington will be shaving and trimming some willing volunteers into their sculptural models gathered round.
  • Candy Floss Cove will be providing colourful interpretations from ancient faces to yours, via the artistry of face painting.
  • There will also be commentary by some historians working on hair: Lea Niccolai, Dawn LaValle Norman and Miles Pattenden.

Upcoming Events


Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk