Beard tax

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A Russian beard token from 1705, carried to indicate that the owner had paid the beard tax imposed by Peter the Great

A beard tax is a governmental policy that requires men to pay for the privilege of wearing a beard. The most well documented beard tax was in place in Russia during the 18th century.


Beard tokens (1725 version above; 1705 version below)

In 1698,[1] Tsar Peter I of Russia instituted a beard tax as part of an effort to bring Russian society in line with Western European models. To enforce the ban on beards, the tsar empowered police to forcibly and publicly shave those who refused to pay the tax.[2] Resistance to going clean shaven was widespread with many believing that it was a religious requirement for a man to wear a beard,[3] and the Russian Orthodox Church declared being clean-shaven as blasphemous.[4]

The tax levied depended upon the status of the bearded man: those associated with the Imperial Court, military, or government were charged 60 rubles annually;[a] wealthy merchants were charged 100 rubles per year while other merchants and townsfolk were charged 60 rubles per year; Muscovites were charged 30 rubles per year; and peasants were charged two half-kopeks every time they entered a city.[6]

The tax raised an average of 3,588 rubles annually from 1705 to 1708. However, from a financial standpoint, the tax was unsuccessful due both to the relatively low number of people unwilling to shave their beards and an overestimation of the ability of the Russian state to administer and collect the tax.[7] In 1772, the tax was formally repealed by Catherine the Great.[8]

Beard token[edit]

Those who paid the tax were required to carry a "beard token" (Russian: Бородовой знак) or "beard kopek" (бородовая копейка).[9] This was a copper or silver token with a Russian Eagle on the reverse and on the obverse the lower part of a face with nose, mouth, whiskers, and beard. Several versions were minted between the issuance of the decree and its lifting in 1772.[10] The first token minted in 1698 or 1699 was a simple copper penny of which only two specimens have been found.[11] It was followed by the more common round, copper token minted in 1705 and again in 1710. A rhomboid version was issued in 1724 and 1725.[12] Walter Hawkins published a paper in 1845 illustrating an example of the token from his own collection and describing the history of the tax in Russia.[13]

The 1699 and 1705 versions were inscribed with the words "money taken" (ДЕНГИ ВЗѦТЫ) on the obvers, and the date in Cyrillic numerals (҂АѰЕ ГОДѸ, "Year 1705") on the reverse of the 1705 token; the 1710 version was largely the same with an updated date (҂АѰІ, "1710"). The rhomboid version of 1724/1725 was smooth on the reverse with the phrase "beard tax taken" (СБОРОДЫ ПОШЛИНА ВЗЯТА) on the obverse and "the beard is a superfluous burden" (БОРОДА ЛИШЬНАѦ ТѦГОТА) on the edge. The date on the later tokens was written in Arabic numerals.[11][14][15]


A persistent legend claims that King Henry VIII of England, who wore a beard himself, introduced a tax on beards, and that his eventual successor Elizabeth I tried unsuccessfully to increase the tax.[16] Contemporary documentation of the Tudor beard tax, however, is lacking, and The National Archives has no record of such a tax having been instituted.[17]


The bearded Francis I of France received approval from the pope in the early 1500s to levy a tax on priests' beards in part to fund his wars with the Holy Roman Empire. This led to a divide between the wealthier court ecclesiastics who could afford the tax and poorer village priests who could not.[18][19]


In 1936, the Kingdom of Yemen introduced a "no-beard tax," allowed men with clean-shaven faces to pay a tax in lieu of growing a beard.[20] This policy differed from the approach taken in other Islamic nations where tradition and sharia law have been used to require the growing of beards under threat of punishment.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The rubles under Peter the Great contained 312.1 grains of silver, so 60 rubles represented about 925 grams (two pounds) of pure silver and 100 rubles represented about 1.5 kg of pure silver.[5] Two half-kopeks was one-hundredth of one ruble, or the equivalent of 15 grams (half an ounce) of silver.


  1. ^ Corson, Richard (2005). Fashions in Hair: The First Five Thousand Years (3rd ed.). London: Peter Owen Publishers. p. 220. ISBN 978-0720610932.
  2. ^ Worthington, Daryl (9 April 2016). "History's Strangest Tax? Peter the Great Puts a Price on Beards". New Historian. London: Forgotten Books. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  3. ^ Walsh, Devan (2015), Analysis of Peter the Great's Social Reforms and the Justification of the Reactions from the General Public (PDF), retrieved 27 December 2016
  4. ^ Eschner, Kat (5 September 2017). "Why Peter the Great Established a Beard Tax". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 29 July 2021.
  5. ^ Kelly, Patrick (1821). The Universal Cambist and Commercial Instructor, Being a Full and Accurate Treatise on the Exchanges, Monies, Weights and Measures of All Trading Nations and Their Colonies: With an Accurate Account of Their Banks Public Funds and Paper Currencies. London. p. 167.
  6. ^ "Указ Императора Петра I — О бритiи бородъ и усовъ всякаго чина людямъ, кромѣ поповъ и дьяконовъ, о взятiи пошлины съ тѣхъ, которые сего исполнить не захотятъ, и о выдачѣ заплатившимъ пошлину знаковъ" [Decree of Tsar Peter I — Concerning Beards and Mustaches of Certain Ranks of People, Exempting Priests and Deacons, and Levying a Fee and Issuing a Mark to Those Who Do Not Wish to Shave] (in Russian). 16 January 1705. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  7. ^ Akelev, Evgenii (2020). "Is It Possible to Make Money from Beards? The beard tax and Russian state economics at the beginning of the eighteenth century". Cahiers du monde russe. 61 (1): 81–104. doi:10.4000/monderusse.11923. ISSN 1252-6576. S2CID 230626454.
  8. ^ Tebben, Gerald (15 April 2015). "Five Facts: Peter the Great's beard tax". Coin World. Retrieved 29 July 2021.
  9. ^ Schaffer, Jonathan (25 November 2009). "Smithsonian Rare Russian Coin Collection Seeks Exhibition Sponsor". US Department of State. Archived from the original on 13 October 2011. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  10. ^ Mancini, Mark (29 March 2014). "The Time Peter the Great Declared War on Facial Hair". Mental Floss. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  11. ^ a b Миронович, Ольга (15 August 2018). "У сенсационной находки псковских археологов нет цены — Татьяна Ершова" [The sensational find of Pskov archaeologists has no price — Tatyana Ershova]. МК (in Russian). Pskov, Russia. Retrieved 3 January 2023.
  12. ^ von Schrötter, Friedrich, ed. (1970). Wörterbuch der Münzkunde [Dictionary of Coin Studies] (in German). Berlin, Germany: Walter de Gruyter & Co. p. 63. ISBN 978-3-11-001227-9. Retrieved 1 August 2021.
  13. ^ Hawkins, Walter (1845). "Russian Beard Token". In John Yonge Akerman (ed.). The Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Numismatic Society. Vol. 7. London: Taylor & Walton. pp. 153–155. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  14. ^ Florensky, Pavel (1997). The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: An Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 535. ISBN 978-0691032436.
  15. ^ "Бородовой знак". Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary. Saint Petersburg. 1907. Retrieved 27 December 2016.{{cite encyclopedia}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  16. ^ Andrews, William G. (1904). At the Sign of the Barber's Pole: Studies in Hirsute History (text). Cottingham, Yorkshire, England: J.R. Tutin. ISBN 978-1590210819. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  17. ^ Hawksley, Lucinda (11 November 2014). "DHH Author Blog: Moustaches, Whiskers & Beards – Lucinda Hawksley". Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  18. ^ Dulaure, Jacques-Antoine (1786). Pogonologia, Or a Philosophical and Historical Essay on Beards. London, England: R. Thorn. p. 106.
  19. ^ Ripley, George; Dana, Charles Anderson, eds. (1881). The New American Cyclopædia: A Popular Dictionary of General Knowledge. Vol. II. New York: D. Appleton & Co. pp. 420–421.
  20. ^ Long, Henry F. (October 1936). "Among the State Tax Commissions". The Bulletin of the National Tax Association. XXII (1): 10. JSTOR 41786672.
  21. ^ Paraszcuk, Joanna (29 April 2015). "Every Man In Mosul Ordered To Grow A Beard". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.