What is Tonsure? - Tonsure - a medieval haircut for Christian monks
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What is Tonsure?

A man with a tonsured head

Tonsure means to cut off someone's hair. Monks in the Middle Ages generally showed that they were monks by cutting their hair short (when most men wore theirs long) and especially by shaving a bald spot in the middle of the back of their heads.
Because you could not be king (or emperor) if you were a monk, sometimes kings forced their rivals to have their hair tonsured, so that nobody would try to make them king.

Among the Franks, just having short hair by itself seems to have been enough to keep you from becoming king. And among the Visigoths, both men and women had their hair cut off as punishment for a wide variety of crimes, as well as to keep them from becoming king.

Bibliography and further reading about medieval Christian monks:

Main Christianity page
Main Middle Ages page
Main religion page

Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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