Tsar Peter I of Russia, or Peter the Great (1672-1725) is best known for encouraging Russia's rush to “modernity” in the late 1600s. He spearheaded a cultural revolution that replaced some of the traditional (and medieval) social and political systems with ones that were modern, scientific, and “Westernized”.

Peter's reforms had a lasting impact on Russia, and even today, many institutions of the Russian government trace their origins to his reign. However, his methods were controversial at the time, as exemplified by the infamous Beard Tax of 1698.

During 1697 and 1698, the Tsar spent time touring Europe incognito. During his travels, he observed firsthand many different aspects of Western society, from ship-building technology to cultural norms. Upon his return to Russia, he incorporated several aspects into Russian life, including a revised calendar and a push for Russian men to go beardless, like Europeans. He first announced the concept to unsuspecting participants at a reception in his honor, personally shaving the beards of all the horrified male guests in attendance.

Despite their ruler’s enthusiasm, the idea of clean-shaved Russian faces did not catch on well with the rest of the nation, particularly the Orthodox Church, who believed the practice to be blasphemous.

Tsar Peter eventually compromised with a “Beard Tax”, which allowed flexibility for citizens who preferred more hair on their faces, while at the same time providing more income for the Russian state.

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