Beard Tax: A Way to Modernize Russia

Tsar Peter I enacted a number of measures to regulate and modernize Russia. He modified the Russian calendar, the way Russian was written, the military, including trying to get Russians to lose their facial hair like the "modern" Western Europeans he had encountered while on his tour, among other reforms.

Prior to the reign of Peter I, Russia had few ties to Europe and no navy defended its sea borders. Peter I traveled throughout Europe under a guise to study the successes of European nations. Russia was able to become a dominant nation in the eastern hemisphere as a result.

Peter I started the policy of beardlessness right after he returned. He proclaimed that ALL Russian men needed to get rid of their beards. It changed, nevertheless, when he figured implementing a tax would allow him to generate revenue for the government while still enabling people to keep their beards.

Anyone who grew a beard had to obtain a token (znak) from government officials. The tax for nobility may hit 100 rubles; for commoners, could be as little as 1 kopek. A token, made of copper for commoners and silver for nobility, was handed to those who paid the levy.

Men with beards were seen as wealthy during that time since they pay tax on their facial hair. They should always leave with their token as evidence of paying tax. The rule was removed during the reign of Catherine II because it was never a significant source of state revenue.