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

Tonsure
A man with a tonsured head

January 2017 - 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.

Learn by doing: what do we learn about people today from their hairstyles?
More about Christian monks
More about Christian nuns
More about medieval clothing

Bibliography and further reading about medieval Christian monks:

Monks
Visigoths
Franks
Main Christianity page
Main Middle Ages page
Main religion page


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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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