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315 years ago today, on Sept. 5, 1698

Peter I introduced a tax on beards to bring Russians closer to Western cultural standards. Nobles and officials were charged 600 rubles per year — a substantial amount at the time — if they didn’t cut their beards. Only church officials were exempt. 

The Moscow Times

Picture: A beard token, given out to Russians as proof of having paid the beard tax.

1705 Russian beard token
On September 5th, 1698, Peter – who was later to be called The Great – returned from his educational tour in the metropolises of Europe to Moscow. Of course, all important officials, the flunkeys and all those hoping for the Tsar to confer a favour on them gathered at the court the next morning. But instead of talking to them about Russia’s political future, Peter did something totally unexpected. He pulled a long and sharp razor from his bag and began to shave the commander in chief of the army. The latter was too stunned to react. The next in line followed, an important politician, a boyar stemming from the eldest and noblest Russian family. One Russian nobleman after the other was shaved except for three people. Peter spared only the Patriarch, a very old man and his own guardian.

At first, the shaving skills of the Tsar were restricted to those living closest to him. But shortly afterwards, Peter gave the order for the ordinary people to follow the example of the big wigs. The Tsar imposed a prohibition for every inhabitant of his country to wear a beard. Exceptions were made only for churchmen and peasants. Officials were sent out to supervise the ukase’s implementation and to personally shave anybody refusing to obey on the spot.


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