Headwear of Nomads and Barbarians

One of the things that most shocked the Romans about the barbarian tribes who attacked the outposts of the Roman Empire in the fourth century C.E. was the wildness of the barbarians' hair. Since we have no written records, paintings, or sculptures of these early peoples, we must rely on the accounts of outside observers, who were often the victims of attacks. Nearly every account emphasizes that barbarians wore their hair long. Women wore their hair very long and often braided it and let it hang down their back. Barbarian men often pushed their long hair straight back over the crown of their head and let it hang down their back. They also had long beards and mustaches. One Roman historian, describing the hairstyles of the Gauls (from modern-day France), is quoted in Richard Corson's Fashions in Hair: The First Five Thousand Years : "They indeed allow [their hair] to grow so thick that it scarce differs from a horse's mane. The nobility … wear moustaches, which hang down so as to cover their mouths, so that when they eat and drink, these brush their victuals [food] or dip into their liquids."

Not all barbarian men adopted a full head of hair, beard, and mustache, however. Some shaved their beard but wore a long mustache. Among the Goths, from the area that is today Germany, some priests shaved the front and sides of their head but left a long mane of hair growing from the top and back of the head. Warriors from Gaul were sometimes known to dye their hair bright red, and Anglo-Saxons sometimes dyed their hair shades of green, orange, and deep blue. Throughout the barbarian tribes, short hair for men was generally thought of as a sign of disgrace.

Little is known about barbarian headwear, though some accounts of these tribes do mention that they wore hats. Some early physical evidence from northern Europe indicates that peoples like the Goths and the Franks (from present-day Germany) may have worn a thick felt cap. There were also accounts of Franks wearing battle headdresses made with bison horns.


Corson, Richard. Fashions in Hair: The First Five Thousand Years. London, England: Peter Owen, 2001.

Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

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