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  #1  
Old 06-02-2006, 12:39 PM
ralph124c ralph124c is offline
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How Did Ancient Romans Shave?

Did they have steel razor blades? or is bronze capable of being sharpened (sufficiently0 to shave with? If you lookj at ancient roman staues (not necessarily reliable), it seems that most emperors , up to the time of hadrain, were clean shaven. Hadrian wore a beard, as did many subsequent emperors. So, if most roman men were clean shaven, did they use barber shops? were mirrors in common use, such that one could shave himslef?
Or did most get by with short trimmed beards. i suspect that shaving was probably a very expensive activity (resewrved for the upper classes), requiring hot water, soap, carefully honed blades 9steel or bronze0 , and quite a bit of time. Anybody know?
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  #2  
Old 06-02-2006, 12:45 PM
CC CC is offline
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I have no idea, but I would guess that obsidian would make a pretty good blade if they needed one. As a natural glass, it would certainly be sharp enough, and I'm guessing that if one can learn to deal with a straight razor, one could learn to deal with a straight piece of glass. Just a WAG. xo, C.
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  #3  
Old 06-02-2006, 12:46 PM
silenus silenus is online now
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Bronze and iron razors were around. They dull quickly, but that is what slaves are for. It's not like the patricians had to sharpen them.
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  #4  
Old 06-02-2006, 12:48 PM
Waverly Waverly is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CC
I have no idea, but I would guess that obsidian would make a pretty good blade if they needed one. As a natural glass, it would certainly be sharp enough, and I'm guessing that if one can learn to deal with a straight razor, one could learn to deal with a straight piece of glass. Just a WAG. xo, C.
I suppose they could have used some of these materials, but classical Romans would actually have used a bronze razor, same as the Greeks before them.
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  #5  
Old 06-02-2006, 01:51 PM
CJJ* CJJ* is offline
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Bronze was the preferred choice for razors, but some in iron have survived, surprising given how fragile they are.

Seems to me I saw a bronze razor recovered from remains of a Roman camp in Colchester when I toured the British Museum some years ago, but am having trouble finding it in their catalogue.

In any event, the second photo on this page is similar to the razor I saw. Bronze razors date back to, well, the Bronze age, as this photo of one found in Afghanistan will attest.
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  #6  
Old 06-02-2006, 02:12 PM
CookingWithGas CookingWithGas is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CJJ*
In any event, the second photo on this page is similar to the razor I saw. Bronze razors date back to, well, the Bronze age, as this photo of one found in Afghanistan will attest.
Holy sh*t, I hope they had invented styptic pencils, too.
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  #7  
Old 06-02-2006, 03:10 PM
dangermom dangermom is offline
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IIRC, Romans didn't have soap--or at least, only a few very wealthy ones did. To wash, they covered themselves with olive oil and scraped it off with a strigil (which looks like a razor, only blunt), and then hung out in the baths. Dishes were scrubbed with sand.

So I'm thinking that they probably shaved with oil, not soap. But they were big on shaving, even though it wasn't much fun.
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  #8  
Old 06-02-2006, 03:15 PM
Lissa Lissa is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CC
I have no idea, but I would guess that obsidian would make a pretty good blade if they needed one. As a natural glass, it would certainly be sharp enough, and I'm guessing that if one can learn to deal with a straight razor, one could learn to deal with a straight piece of glass. Just a WAG. xo, C.
Obsidian is sharper than steel and doesn't lose its edge as quickly. I've heard that some surgical cutting instruments are now being made from obsidian for that reason.
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  #9  
Old 06-02-2006, 03:22 PM
Zabali_Clawbane Zabali_Clawbane is offline
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I wonder that they didn't use some of the depilatory agents/methods that have been attributed to feminine use in ancient times, like sugaring or even threading?
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  #10  
Old 06-02-2006, 03:25 PM
silenus silenus is online now
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IIRC, obsidian also makes a less ragged cut, on a microscopic level, so the tissue heals more cleanly and there is less scarring.

It's hard to believe but the sharpest knives that have ever been used in recent years were mounted with stone flakes made of obsidian...Good quality obsidian fractures down to single molecules which can produce a cutting edge 500 times sharper than the sharpest steel scalpel blade ("American Medical News", Nov. 2, 1984:21). On the cellular level an obsidian knife can cut between cells rather than tear the cells as a steel knife will do. A sharper cut will allow a wound to heal more rapidly with less scarring. High magnification of a steel scalpel blade edge looks like a serrated saw blade but an obsidian edge looks smooth.

From here.
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  #11  
Old 06-02-2006, 03:53 PM
Jophiel Jophiel is offline
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When I took a scultpure and metalworking class in college, one assignment was to make a ceremonial object from bronze. While mine wasn't bladed, the instructor told us that you could put a near surgical edge on a bronze blade.

Of course, I have no idea how well such an edge would hold up to actual use.
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  #12  
Old 06-02-2006, 04:00 PM
Smeghead Smeghead is offline
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I seem to recall hearing that Romans shaved their entire bodies, not just their faces. The upper classes, anyway. I don't recall for sure where I heard that, but I want to say it was at the Roman bath museum in Bath, England.
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  #13  
Old 06-02-2006, 08:03 PM
Queen Bruin Queen Bruin is offline
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Tweezing was also used pretty frequently.

Who was it that complained about having to live in an apartment above the baths, and hearing the cries of those being tweezed below? ( ) I keep forgetting.
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  #14  
Old 06-02-2006, 10:13 PM
Cartooniverse Cartooniverse is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lissa
Obsidian is sharper than steel and doesn't lose its edge as quickly. I've heard that some surgical cutting instruments are now being made from obsidian for that reason.
You are correct. This surgeon is holding a modern obsidian scalpel.

Cool......

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  #15  
Old 06-02-2006, 10:50 PM
Tzor Tzor is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by silenus
It's hard to believe but the sharpest knives that have ever been used in recent years were mounted with stone flakes made of obsidian...
Yes but this was one of the biggest reasons why civilizations like the Mayan civilization never went into the age of metals. Their obsidian technology was in many ways superior. Many later people marveled at the general tendency in Mezzo America for ritualistic scarring never realizing that because the blades were so super sharp that they were often not as painful as would have been the case with iron or steel technology.
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  #16  
Old 06-03-2006, 01:48 AM
Derleth Derleth is offline
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Originally Posted by Tzor
Mezzo America
That's 'Mesoamerica'. They weren't Italian.

How well does obsidian stand up to being banged around? I should think the glass would be very brittle and prone to shattering into thousands of extremely sharp little pieces.
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  #17  
Old 06-03-2006, 06:48 AM
ralph124c ralph124c is offline
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Is there any Roman literature that describes shaving? I suspect that with bronze blades, it was pretty much torture. I myself can see the difference in a new blade-shaving with a bronze blade-horrible!
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  #18  
Old 06-03-2006, 10:06 AM
Beware of Doug Beware of Doug is offline
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Probably apocryphal, but here goes...

PITY ALL


THE MIGHTY CAESARS


THEY PULLED EACH


WHISKER OUT


WITH TWEEZERS


Burma-Shave
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  #19  
Old 06-03-2006, 07:11 PM
633squadron 633squadron is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ralph124c
Is there any Roman literature that describes shaving? I suspect that with bronze blades, it was pretty much torture. I myself can see the difference in a new blade-shaving with a bronze blade-horrible!
I shave with a straight razor, so I've read lots about this subject before. The Romans did use tweezing, which strikes me as extremely painful and irritating. No wonder they called for blood in the Arena

Alas, we don't seem to have any definitive Roman literature about shaving. We do know they used tweezers and iron blades. Other cultures used sea shells!

I suspect that if you work hard enough, you can put a good edge on both bronze and iron. Bronze may even work better, since iron will tend to flake even on the microscopic level. You want a blade that is extremely thin and even.

I also suspect that you could use an obsidian razor. The problem would be trying to keep it both sharp and thin. If the body of the razor is too thick, you can't put the blade edge at the correct angle to your face. You notice that problem with that when you start to use a str8 razor.

The best modern str8 razors are hollow ground, so that you can get them close to your face. They have a double bevel, which means that if you could look at a cross-section of the blade down near the edge, you'd see a broad V and then a narrower V sticking down from it. You then have to constantly hone and strop the edge so that it is smooth even at the microscopic level.

This sounds tedious and difficult, but it isn't all that bad. The absolute best shave I've ever had comes from a old-style double-edge blade in a reproduction of King Gilette's original razor. The only reason I use a str8 instead is that I am opposed to tossing a piece of metal (even a small one) every five or six shaves. If someone could figure out a way to re-hone double-edged blades...

My str8 gear costs more, but in the 18 months I've been using it I have not thrown away anything. I know guys who are using str8s they inherited from their grandfathers!
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  #20  
Old 06-03-2006, 08:54 PM
cbarnes cbarnes is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Sausage Creature
Tweezing was also used pretty frequently.

Who was it that complained about having to live in an apartment above the baths, and hearing the cries of those being tweezed below? ( ) I keep forgetting.
It was, I believe, Seneca.
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  #21  
Old 06-04-2006, 10:12 AM
scotandrsn scotandrsn is offline
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Here's a site of completely unknown credibility of the history of shaving.

It repeats a story I heard elsewhere that one of the ancient Roman methods of shaving was with a pumice stone, which must have hurt like hell.
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  #22  
Old 06-04-2006, 01:17 PM
Barbarian Barbarian is offline
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You can put an edge on bronze. The problem is keeping that edge. You'd probably have to hone a bronze razor every half-dozen strokes -- which would be long and tedious for shaving.
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  #23  
Old 06-04-2006, 10:23 PM
sjc sjc is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 633squadron
I shave with a straight razor, so I've read lots about this subject before. The Romans did use tweezing, which strikes me as extremely painful and irritating. No wonder they called for blood in the Arena

Alas, we don't seem to have any definitive Roman literature about shaving. We do know they used tweezers and iron blades. Other cultures used sea shells!

I suspect that if you work hard enough, you can put a good edge on both bronze and iron. Bronze may even work better, since iron will tend to flake even on the microscopic level. You want a blade that is extremely thin and even.

I also suspect that you could use an obsidian razor. The problem would be trying to keep it both sharp and thin. If the body of the razor is too thick, you can't put the blade edge at the correct angle to your face. You notice that problem with that when you start to use a str8 razor.

The best modern str8 razors are hollow ground, so that you can get them close to your face. They have a double bevel, which means that if you could look at a cross-section of the blade down near the edge, you'd see a broad V and then a narrower V sticking down from it. You then have to constantly hone and strop the edge so that it is smooth even at the microscopic level.

This sounds tedious and difficult, but it isn't all that bad. The absolute best shave I've ever had comes from a old-style double-edge blade in a reproduction of King Gilette's original razor. The only reason I use a str8 instead is that I am opposed to tossing a piece of metal (even a small one) every five or six shaves. If someone could figure out a way to re-hone double-edged blades...

My str8 gear costs more, but in the 18 months I've been using it I have not thrown away anything. I know guys who are using str8s they inherited from their grandfathers!
[hijack]
This is almost entirely off-topic, but I used to hate shaving until I started using a soap and brush rather than shaving cream. I'm not sure why, but it shaves much better for me. Maybe it's just that it makes me take a bit more time with beard-prep, but I think that there's more to it than that.

You can buy special soap, but I find that a particular brand of non-scented glycerin soap works well for me. I buy it at the local health food store (I believe it is cheaper than either shaving cream or the special soaps they sell for this, though I'm not entirely sure since the other two may last longer).

[/end Hijack]
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  #24  
Old 06-05-2006, 07:18 AM
Sigene Sigene is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Derleth
That's 'Mesoamerica'. They weren't Italian.

How well does obsidian stand up to being banged around? I should think the glass would be very brittle and prone to shattering into thousands of extremely sharp little pieces.

My experience with obsidian and other "glass" blades is that they are incredibly sharp....the sharpest I've ever handled.
But they dull more quickly then expected and of course are as brittle as glass. I suppose they can be resharpened by grinding, but I always just break off another piece or rework the edge.
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  #25  
Old 06-05-2006, 07:28 AM
Scumpup Scumpup is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Barbarian
You can put an edge on bronze. The problem is keeping that edge. You'd probably have to hone a bronze razor every half-dozen strokes -- which would be long and tedious for shaving.
The solution is to have more than one razor at hand. All may then be honed before the next shave. Remember, too, that you are just re-honing the edge between shaves...not quite sharp enough to shave is still pretty sharp. It's not like re-profiling and sharpening a blade that has gone blunt.
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