The Ancient History of Redheads and Ginger Hair


For better or worse, red hair seems to increasingly receive attention in contemporary society.

With many events and products specifically catering to redheads being introduced every year, including Redhead Day UK in London and the Irish Redhead Convention, it is hard to ignore gingerness these days.

Not only are these events attracting extensive media attention from many different countries, but heck, us gingers even have multiple South Park episodes dedicated to us.

It also seems that, depending on where you are in the world, red hair receives different types of attention.

But this is not just a recent phenomenon. Back in ancient times, redheads were pretty prominent, too.

For example, several mummies of Egyptian pharaohs were found to have hair with reddish pigments. Among them was Ramesses II (c. 1303 BC to 1213 BC), often referred to as ‘Ramesses the Great’, who was regarded as the most powerful and celebrated pharaoh of the Egyptian Empire. Oh yes, gingers rule.

Around 500BC, redheads were first mentioned in literature by the Greek poet Xenophanes. In his work, he described how back then, people typically created their gods in their own image and therefore the Thracian Gods had blue eyes and red hair.

Furthermore, many Thracian graves had the inscription ‘Rufus’, meaning redhead, with Thracian often depicted as having red hair, too.

Next, in around 400BC, Herodotus described how the Budni, a large and powerful nation, all had bright red hair and deep blue eyes.

And today, when you visit the Acropolis museum in Athens, you will find several statues of ginger women on display. In ancient times, the hair of female statues was mostly painted red, as the Greeks loved the colour red. True, this could be due to the fact that limited paint colours were available back then.

However, it is also said that ginger hair was admired in Ancient Greece, because it was associated with honour and courage.

For example, Homer’s Iliad describes Menelaus and Achilles, both heroes in Ancient Greece, as redheads. He also mentions Menelaus’ wife, Helen of Troy, in both his Iliad and the Odyssey as having a ginge tinge. Helen of Troy was said to be the daughter of Zeus and Leda and is described in Greek mythology as the most beautiful woman in the world.

Furthermore, Aphrodite, the ancient God of love, beauty, sexuality and fertility was said to possess the MC1R gene as well.

On the other hand, it is said that the ancient Greeks thought that redheads turned into vampires when they died.

Also, with slaves in ancient Greek and Roman times often being imported from northern territories, red wigs were given to actors depicting slaves in Greek and Roman theatre. Still, it is sometimes said that redheaded slaves were more expensive in ancient Rome, as they were often thought to bring good luck.

However, the Egyptians believed that redheads were unlucky and should therefore be sacrificed – in this case, buried alive – to the God Osiris to end the bad luck.

Contrarily, it is occasionally mentioned that red hair was in fashion in Alexandria during Cleopatra’s time, possibly because Cleopatra was a redhead herself.

As you can see, historical information about redheads contains many contradictions and varies greatly across different cultures and countries.

Perceptions of redheads possibly fluctuated over time, just like today. Either way, we can safely state that, redheads drew a lot of attention in ancient times, and they probably always will.

Our rare gingerness will always be noticed!


For this article, credit has to be given to, which provides information on our ginger ancestors.

By Claire


READ: Where Does The Term ‘Ginger’ Come From?
READ: Mapping The Worldwide Population of Redheads