Beard Tax

views updated


The beard tax is the best known of a series of measures enacted by Tsar Peter I to transform and regulate the appearance of his subjects. As early as 1698 the tsar ordered many of his prominent courtiers to shave their beards, and in 1699 he began to mandate the wearing of European fashions at court functions. In subsequent years a series of regulations ordered various groups to adopt German (i.e., European) dress. In 1705 decrees were issued prohibiting the buying, selling, and wearing of Russian dress by courtiers, state servitors, and townspeople. In the same year the wearing of beards, which was favored by Orthodox doctrine, was prohibited and the beard tax was instituted. With the exception of the Orthodox clergy, anyone who wanted to wear a beard was ordered to pay a special tax and obtain a token (znak ) from government officials. Although no extensive studies have examined the implementation of the beard tax and related decrees, the fact that they had to be repeated upon subsequent occasions would indicate that compliance was far from universal. Old Believers (Orthodox Church members who rejected reforms in ritual and practice) were disproportionately affected by the beard tax and they alone were ordered by law to wear old-style Russian dress (to separate them from the mainstream of society). The beard tax was never a major component of state revenue, and by the reign of Catherine II even the regulations on Old Believers began to be relaxed.

See also: old believers; peter i; taxes


Hughes, Lindsey. (1998). Russia in the Age of Peter the Great. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Brian Boeck