September 5th – Could you live without your beard?

September 5th – Do you know what day it is? Here’s a hint: if you have facial hair, you might just be glad that you’re living in 2014, and not 1698.

On this day in 1698 Peter the Great introduced a beard tax.

You’re probably familiar with some of the exploits, peculiarities and rampages of the notorious Peter the Great. Amongst other things, he was a ruler hell-bent on modernisation, and some of the techniques he employed were cruel, while others were just downright weird. However, his attack on facial hair has to be one of his most bizarre attempts at westernisation.

In his day, Peter the Great viewed Russia as a country sitting stubbornly in the dark ages, refusing to keep pace with the rest of Europe, and he saw it as his duty to drag his people up to date whether they liked it or not. During his grand tour of Europe, something caught his attention – fashion. European men had shed the long flowing beards of the past and had taken to going bare faced.

The day after his return to Russia, Peter gathered his noblemen and personally took a pair of scissors to each of their beards! Following this, he introduced a tax ordering anyone wearing facial hair or traditional clothing to pay a sum of 100 roubles each year (which at that time was an impossible sum of money!) Along with this came some official ridicule. Those who paid their taxes received a little copper medal. On one side was depicted a moustache and beard, while the other side read “This beard is a useless burden”.

Culturally, this was an enormous shock for Russian men, who generally saw the beard as both part of their masculinity and traditional values. It wasn’t going to be easy for them to part with their beloved facial hair, and for many it was too much to bear!

Nowadays, of course, beards are fashionable, and men of all ages have the choice to grow their beards as long as they like, or of course, not at all.

So, imagine you were living in during the reign of Peter the Great, and ask yourself one question: could you live without your beard?

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