Why Did Egyptian Pharaohs Wear False Beards?

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As with the rulers of many societies, Egyptian pharaohs had no shortage of elaborate garments in their royal wardrobes. But perhaps the most distinctive of these are the strange false metallic beards that adorned the chins of these legendary leaders. Despite these braided accessories, pharaohs were normally meticulous shavers, according to most archaeologists and historians. So why did they wear these false beards while eliminating real ones? 

Ultimately, the answer boils down to one word: religion. Charged with judging the deceased in the afterlife (according to the famed Egyptian Book of the Dead), the god Osiris appears in a number of surviving art pieces with a grand beard of his own, one which appears to be distinctively synthetic

Thus, real-life pharaohs donned their man-made beards with the aim of linking themselves to the god’s eternal reign by imitating his appearance. These coveted objects would often then be passed on from one ruler to the next over several generations.

To a degree, this trend was even gender-blind. Some female pharaohs, such as Hatshepsut (who ruled Egypt for 21 years and has been praised by Egyptologist James Henry Breasted as “the first great woman of whom we are informed”), chose to honor the tradition upon assuming power, opting to wear false beards along with masculine attire to preserve the air of divinity that had long-since become associated with their lofty office.

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April 30, 2013 - 9:30am
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