The Vikings used a lotion of goose poo. The ancient Greek medic Hippocrates believed the best cure for baldness was really pigeon droppings, which he mixed with horseradish, cumin and nettles. One 5,000 year-old Egyptian recipe suggested blending the burned prickles of a hedgehog immersed in oil with honey, alabaster, red ochre – oh, and fingernail scrapings – and slathering the concoction liberally over the affected area.

For as long as men have had access to mirrors, they’ve been fretting about their scalps getting lonely. It was a particular obsession of Julius Caesar, who tried everything to get his hair back; the wreath of laurels he wore was less a nod to Roman tradition than an attempt at covering up his shiny pate. By the time he met Cleopatra, he was almost completely bald. In a last ditch attempt to save his mop, she lovingly recommended a home remedy of ground-up mice, horse teeth and bear grease.

Alas, it didn’t work. He lost his hair like many great men before and since, including Socrates, Napoleon, Aristotle, Gandhi, Darwin, Churchill, Shakespeare and Hippocrates – who, despite the pigeon droppings, was so bald he even has a type of baldness named after him. Eventually Caesar began growing his hair longer at the back and combing these strands forwards across his head, a technique which was optimistically described as “illusion styling”. Now it’s known as the comb-over.

Thousands of years later, we’ve moved on from garlands and revolting concoctions to expensive creams, tonics and shampoos, and last resorts of toupes, pills and surgery. Today you can attend a hair loss clinic, sign up for hair-loss counselling and it’s not unusual to see adverts telling balding men to “see their doctor”. Papers discuss balding in epidemic terms, meanwhile the phenomenon even has a new scientific-sounding name, “androgenic alopecia”. If you didn’t know otherwise, you might think it was a medical condition.

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