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Did Aztec men grow beards?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Sarah Conner: Did Aztec men ever grow beards prior to the Europeans’ arrival? (Answer compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

A Mexica man wearing a cape
A Mexica man wearing a cape (Click on image to enlarge)

The short answer is ‘No’. The long answer is more interesting. We think the best explanation of this is given by Warwick Bray (member of our Panel of Experts) in his introductory classic Everyday Life of the Aztecs, so we’re going to quote him directly...

Hair on the face was considered unpleasant, but nature collaborated with art by endowing the men with only meagre beards. Shaving was therefore unnecessary; facial hair was plucked out with tweezers, and, as a further aid towards good looks, Aztec mothers applied hot cloths to the faces of their young sons in order to stifle the hair follicles and inhibit the growth of whiskers. Only old or distinguished men (who could afford to ignore fashion) wore beards, and these were at lest thin and wispy.

We should add that, in Esther Pasztory’s words (Aztec Art, 1983, p. 178) ‘a beard had symbolic importance as a sign of old age and veneration’; she gives an example of Mexica sculptors deliberately ADDING a beard to an Aztec copy of a Toltec monument!

Beards or no beards? Two ambiguous examples from pre-Hispanic art
Beards or no beards? Two ambiguous examples from pre-Hispanic art (Click on image to enlarge)

Main quote from: Everyday Life of the Aztecs by Warwick Bray, Dorset Press, New York, 1968, p. 28.

Picture sources:-
• Pic 1: Illustration by Felipe Dávalos/Mexicolore
• Pic 2: Photo (L) courtesy of Werner-Forman Archive; photo (R) by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore.

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