Bronze Age razor : Masculinity, the Horse and the Sun Chariot

This is a Bronze Age razor with a horse- and waterbird-handle from Denmark, maybe from a funerary context-but contextual information is not known from this 19th century finding. The outlines of the artefact are suggestive of a ship corpus with animal applications, three elements which played their role in the Ideological and Beliefs systems of North Europe during the Bronze Age.

Razors with horse head handle are especially well known from the Middle/Late Bronze Age of Denmark:  Grisby, Løve, Grave 204, Sperrestrup, Grave 42, Broholm, Lundtofte, Grave 101 Trappendal (Grave 13). The bronze razor with the horse-head handle appeared in Scandinavia in the fifteenth century BC. The razor had some antecedents in the Aegean, although none of these objects were imported to the north. It is suggested that the Scandinavian warrior class consciously adopted elements of the Mycenaean warrior package, including a clean-shaven face.

The warrior aristocracies from the Aegean to Scandinavia shared the same basic appearance and body culture, reflected in the employment of similar dress, weapon types and combinations, similar instruments for body care – razors and tweezers – and similar rituals in burial. This demonstrates the acculturating force of the new institution of warrior aristocracies during the Bronze Age in Europe.

Razors in male graves during the Bronze Age were initially interpreted as having a purely functional purpose in the context of male personal hygiene. However, razors are mainly found in burials and hoards and their appearance in such contexts suggests that they played a symbolic as well as functional role should not be regarded as an isolated object, but as part of a larger ideological or social statement.  It seems that razors served men during this time as personal symbols of identity and were a means of facilitating the construction of a primarily male identity.

The article “The Warrior’s Beauty” by Paul Treherne (1995) presents the emergence of a warrior elite in the Bronze Age as linked to change in the expression of identity as well as material culture. The Bronze Age warrior elite are identified based on “personal consumables” found in male burials during the Early Bronze Age, centered around warfare (weaponry), alcohol (drinking vessels), riding/driving (horse harness/wheeled vehicles), and bodily ornamentation (personal hygiene equipment and dress).

Treherne highlights the fact that “‘toilet articles’ appear to have been exclusively ‘male’ funerary goods at this time”. In fact, by the late Bronze Age in some regions items of personal hygiene appear to be “the main male status item in graves”. He also argues that the primary “ideology” of the middle Bronze Age revolved around the “male (gendered) individual and the display of his personal accoutrements acquired through inter-regional exchange and emulation, with novel themes of drinking, driving/riding, body decorating, and fighting”. This change in burial practice, according to Treherne, mirrors the change in identity and social status of certain individuals. Since the corpse was only visible for a short time, as opposed to a longer display after death, “the message communicated by the body and its accoutrements to the audience had to be unambiguous and this lent itself to highly formalized or stereotyped representation”.

The “warrior package” in northern Europe in the Bronze and Iron Ages is associated with weapons, personal hygiene paraphernalia, drinking and feasting equipment, and horse trappings. Although none of these object categories on their own (apart from the razor) communicate a strictly “male” identity and many of the same objects can be found in high status female burials, it is the combination of these objects that creates an identity of maleness.

Masculinity, while continuing to be closely associated with weaponry, horse trappings, and drinking and feasting equipment, changes its association with personal hygiene paraphernalia at the beginning of the Iron Age. Razors in particular are no longer found in burials and hoards in Britain, Ireland, and Scandinavia in the Iron Age, although “warrior” graves are still present. However, the “warrior package” Terherne describes is only associated with a few select men of the community and does not necessarily represent the concepts of masculinity applied to most of the population.

Other applications on this artifacts are symbols of the sun. The razor also has the form of a  Sun Chariot (Fig. 2).

The journey of the sun across the sky was an important element in  Scandinavian Bronze Age religion. We find the motif on bronze objects such as razors but also  on rock carvings in N-Europe, but the finest example of them all is The Sun Chariot. The pictures can be interpreted as a narrative about the sun’s journey across the vault of the heavens by day and through the darkness of the underworld by night.

The framework of existence was the eternal cycle with its constant alternation of light and darkness. This was illustrated by The Sun Chariot, where a divine horse pulls the sun. The horse was not the sun’s only helper. The imagery of the period is full of ships. On its journey the sun was also transported by the Sun Ship. Other mythological helpers of the sun were fish, snakes and swimming birds.

John Coltran: Sun Ship! 

“Almost Cut My Hair”: A Razor from the German Bronze Age

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