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Hirsute History: The World’s Most Famous Beards

In multiple periods of human history, men have proudly worn beards upon their faces. The glory of Ancient Greek beards has been forever preserved in fine marble statues. Ancient Egyptians so admired the beard that even female members of the royalty wore fake beards upon their chins. The Assyrians carved beards all over the place: on statues of rulers, on towering bull/lion/bird/man lamassu statues, and on reliefs of soldiers stabbing each other or stabbing lions or stabbing other things. The beard plays a spiritual role in religions ranging from Sikhism to Orthodox Judaism. And, of course men, of the 19th century took beards to new heights of glory, heights saved for posterity thanks to the invention of the camera.

In short, beards are nothing new. And neither is talking about the most famous bearded men of all time. But today, we’re taking a slightly different approach when we talk about history’s greatest beards.

Sometimes the man makes the beard famous, sometimes the beard makes the man.

The mistake many make when discussing great beards from history is to conflate the man behind the beard with the facial hair itself. Think of it like this: Zach Galifianakis is a famous contemporary man who has a beard, but is Mr. Galifianakis’s beard really all that special? No, not really. (But he’s still quite a guy!) Ambrose Burnside was a Union General during the Civil War, a governor, a senator, and the first president of the National Rifle Association (its purpose and mentality were totally different from today’s NRA, FYI), but is he remembered for anything but his facial hair? No, to most he’s just the provenance of the word “sideburns.” Sometimes the man makes the beard famous, sometimes the beard makes the man.

Today, we’re not talking about famous men from history who had beards, but rather about some of the most amazing, glorious, ridiculous, and outright impressive beards from history. Some of these beards you’ll already know, because the man behind the beard was acclaimed (or infamous) thanks to his own merits. Other beards we celebrate solely because of their own inherent hirsute glory.

(Note: If you want to come even close to matching these beards, you’re going to need to know how to shape and take care of your facial hair.)

Laocoön

Wikipedia

He May Not Be Real, But His Beard is Histroric

Whether or not a man named Laocoön existed will never be known for certain, but it’s likely that he didn’t. Why? Because the story is that he was an priest from Troy killed by serpents sent by Greek gods intent on stopping him from giving away the rouse behind the Trojan Horse doesn’t hold water. But the statue that depicts his death, carved sometime in the 2nd century BCE, is not only one of the greatest works of art from antiquity, but also showcases one of the finest beards ever wrought in stone. The thick curls of the doomed man’s face still impress more than 2,000 years after they were first hewn from marble.

Erik the Red

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Warrior Named for His Beard

The real name of one of history’s most famous Vikings was Erik Thorvaldsson, but as he grew into manhood, Erik grew such a luscious, flowing beard that he is known the ages not by his surname, but by the color of his whiskers. Erik the Red established the first Norse settlement in Greenland, begat the famed explorer Leif Erikson, and killed a large number of people, often for insignificant reasons. But what do we really remember about this Viking? His big red beard.

Leonardo da Vinci

Tetra Images/Getty Images

The World’s Most Brilliantly Bearded Man

Today, da Vinci is remembered for his art; his inventions; his studies of anatomy, astronomy, math, architecture; and engineering, and as being the namesake for a popular albeit not that profound novel and film. What far too many scholars of the Renaissance, art historians, and casual da Vinci enthusiasts overlook is the man’s superb beard. Leonardo da Vinci devoted years of his life to beardsmanship, growing whiskers that reached his sternum and spread out as wide as his shoulders. Right up there with achievements like The Last Supper, the Vitruvian Man, and countless contributions to science was that mighty beard.

John Knox

Wikipedia

Founder of Presbyterianism, Grower of an Amazing Beard

If you’re a Presbyterian Christian, you probably know John Knox, a Scotsman who lived for much of the 16th century, as founder of your sect. If you’re a devout Catholic who holds one serious grudge, then you might think of Knox as the jerk who advocated for the imprisonment and eventual beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots. Knox was a minister, a scholar, and worldly man for his day, living in various parts of Europe and rubbing shoulders with nobility, philosophers, and the highest echelon of the clergy. He also grew a beard that, in many depictions, nearly reached his navel. His glorious whiskers are recorded in myriad paintings, statues, etchings, even stained glass windows.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

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Maybe Not Changing the World for the Better, But Those Beards Though

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels are of course best remembered as the founders of Communism, a political and social philosophy they created in response to the ever more imbalanced socioeconomic landscape of the 19th Century. While in many regards theoretically admirable, Communism proved largely ineffective (or worse) in practice. However, the practical failure of applied Communism aside, both Marx and Engels had some of the finest beards of the 1800s. Marx went for the wild, untamed man mane look that spread about his face like a dandelion bloom, while Engels wore his beard thick and full beneath his jaw and chin and topped it off with a stellar mustache.

Jeff Langum

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The Modern World’s Greatest Beard?

Jeff Langum, a 40-something gentleman from New Jersey, has been lauded as having the best beard in the world in myriad beard competitions. And one look at this man’s massive, mighty brown beard is enough to convince most people he deserves the honor. Langum’s beard, when teased out to its fullest, covers his body roughly from ear to waist, spreading wider than his shoulders. His beard is the epitome of a famous beard, for indeed the man behind it would likely live in obscurity save for his amazing whiskers.

Are you more of a mustache man? We’ve got a list for you.

Steven John
Steven John is a writer and journalist living just outside New York City, by way of 12 years in Los Angeles, by way of…
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