Consistently controversial, taxation is one of the biggest sources of conflict between governments and citizens. Throughout history, taxes have led to civil wars and revolutions, or severe punishments for those who attempt to evade them. Even now tax is a hugely thorny issue, but before current debates over issues such as corporation tax or individual contributions to national budgets, history witnessed pieces of tax legislation that are almost impossible to imagine today.
A beard tax was levied by Tsar Peter I of Russia on 5th September, 1698, in one of the most unusual pieces of taxation ever.
The progressive tax on facial hair meant that anyone who wished to keep a beard had to pay the government. Once their money had been deposited the bearded individual received a small, copper token as proof the tax had been paid. An impoverished beggar could pay for his beard with just two kopeks, whereas the wealthiest members of society had to pay over a hundred roubles.
Although hugely unpopular, the legislation remained until 1772 – forty seven years after Peter I had died.
Remarkably, the taxation wasn’t the most extreme measure Peter the Great took in his crusade against facial hair. Upon returning from his Grand Tour of Western Europe in August 1768, Peter was greeted by a reception of the country’s nobles. Accounts claim that after embracing each one, Peter took out a pair of scissors and began to cut the beard off of the commander in chief of the Russian army. In stunned silence the gathered crowds watched as Peter moved on to the next dignitary, shaving each one personally.