The Beard Tax 🧔

(Photo: Vanilla Magazine)

Around this day in 1698, Tsar Peter I – known as Peter the Great- established a beard tax. He wasn’t the only ruler in history to do this: in 1535, King Henry VIII of England, who wore a beard himself, had done the same.

But what was Peter’s reason for the tax?

During 1697 and 1698, Peter spent some time travelling incognito around Europe under the name “Sergeant Pyotr Mikhailov”.
Having discovered that Russia was desperately antiquated, he decided to modernize it so that it could compete with the other European superpowers.

Therefore, he introduced a more structured bureaucracy, he liberalized the feudal economy and brought western experts into his country to reshape his military and political system. He also ordered his nobles to wear fashionable western style dress instead of their traditional clothing, and French became the language of the court and the upper class.

Then, one day, at a court reception, he unexpectedly pulled out a massive barber’s razor and began to personally shave the beards from his horrified guests; only the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church was spared.
He thought that beards were “unnecessary, uncivilized, and ridiculous” and declared that all the men in Russia had to lose their beards. Many old Russians, having had their beards shaved off, saved them preciously, in order to have them placed in their coffins, fearing that they would not be allowed to enter heaven without their beards.

Given the strong reaction and the cultural preference for beards and, maybe, realizing he could raise money for the state while allowing his people to keep their beards, he imposed a beard tax, a progressive fine according to the status of the bearded man; only priests were excluded.
After paying, people were given a “beard token”, which bore an image of the Russian eagle on one side and a bearded face on the other. The medal also proclaimed “the beard tax has been taken” (lit: “Money taken”) and “the beard is a superfluous burden“, and had to be worn with a chain around the neck.
Those who resisted the ban were forcibly shaved.

Eventually, the tax was abolished in 1772.

30 thoughts on “The Beard Tax 🧔

  1. I had heard of that story. Tax creativity never ceases to amaze me. I France, around the end of the 19th century I believe, a tax on doors and windows was instituted. Almost the next day people started filling in windows and doors with bricks and mortar. That can still be seen on some old houses in the countryside.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. In Paris we met an elderly Italian couple who have a studio in Paris. Spent vacations there. They told us Italy has taxes on property in foreign countrie!!!
        I hear Portugal has a favourable tax policy. 🙂 Need to investigate.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am considering it. Seriously. As a French non-resident citizen I’m getting outrageously taxed by France because I live outside the EU. So, maybe Portugal can be a fall-back option. (And I speak Portuguese…) Or a house in Tuscany but that’s probably too expensive. 😉
        Buona sera Luisa


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