Peter the Great: Shave it Off!

Imagine being forced to pay tax for having facial hair. For Russian men this became a reality on the 5th of September in 1698 when Peter the Great imposed a beard tax. If Peter the Great had promoted this new tax with an advertising slogan, it probably would have read: Peter’s beard tax, the most west a man can get.

Peter the Great was enthralled by a more western style of living and he introduced new laws to westernize Russian society and culture. He had revolutionized the army, the education system and administrative structure, whilst encouraging people to follow Western fashions. Having returned to Russia from a tour of Western Europe, Peter gathered his nobles for a welcome reception and then proceeded to chop off their beards with a pair of scissors. His nobles were not impressed, but naturally they obliged.

It was difficult for men to part with their beards because having a longer beard had been a long standing tradition, embodying Orthodox views on manhood. Therefore, it was considered a sin by many to shave. In order to enforce this law, Peter introduced an expensive levy; if you wanted to keep your beard, you had to pay 100 roubles annually, which was a heavy price to pay back then to keep your beloved beard. Priests were exempt from paying the tax and peasants were allowed to keep their beards as long as they stayed in their village. However, if an unshaven peasant travelled to a city, they would have to pay a kopek on entry. Those who paid the tax received a copper coin on which it was inscribed: “A beard is a burden”.

The beard tax was eventually abolished in 1772.

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