Maybe you didn’t even know they had “odd” haircuts – but even by today’s liberal standards they were decidedly “odd”.

Here’s an example …

The Normans had the back of their heads shaven, i.e. from above the ears up and to the back. What were the reasons for this kind of hairstyle?

Certainly in the Bayeux ‘Tapestry’ the haircuts are used quite deliberately to distinguishes the English from their Norman adversaries – so it seems to have been a custom unique to the Normans themselves.

The Normans, a mix of Viking settlers, Frankish settlers, Saxon settlers as well as Gallo-Roman natives, probably continued an old Frankish custom – all be it that it evolved to mean something quite different than the original.

 A (Possible) Answer

The Franks were a militaristic nation and the Frankish practice of cropping the back of the head was a sign of shame applied after defeat.

This hairstyle seems to have survived as a fashion, rather than a militaristic ritual, in eleventh-century Normandy, since the Norman men in the Bayeux ‘Tapestry’ generally wear their hair this way. In some cases the ‘Tapestry’ artist exploits it to contribute to the menacing appearance of the Normans.

The source for this conjecture is one Sidonius Apollinaris (d. 489), a well-known Gallo-Roman bishop & poet and one of the few sources on post-Roman Gaul, describes the (then still heathen) Franks :

… on the crown of [their] red pates lies the hair that has been drawn towards the front, while the neck, exposed by the loss of its covering, shows bright. Their eyes are faint and pale, with a glimmer of greyish blue. Their faces are shaven all round, and instead of beards they have this moustaches which they run through with a comb. Close-fitting garments confine the tall limbs of the men; they are drawn up high so as to expose the knees, and a broad belt supports their narrow middle.
We see thee, aged Sygambrian* warrior, the back of thy head shaven in sign of thy defeat; but now thou guidest the new-grown locks to the old neck again.

*Sygambrians was a poetical name of the Franks

So, who knows some of our Guernsey ancestors may even have sported these rather odd hairstyles themselves!


1066 and all that … the day the Channel Islands became part of England
The Normans – A Timeline
Secrets of The Bayeux Tapestry : Hidden Meanings & Gestures
Guernsey Legends – Duke Richard of Normandy and the Devil