Peter the Great Made a Tax on Beards
A bit excessive, isn't it? Peter the Great (1672-1725) had an overwhelming desire to modernize Russia and that modernization not only included military forces, but fashion as well.
After returning from a two-year survey of western Europe, Peter assembled his chief officials and personally cut off their beards and mustaches; beards simply weren't fashionable anymore. He then demanded a "beard tax" be levied on all men (with the exception of peasants) and later added a penalty that involved shaving with a blunt razor or being plucked with pincers...one hair at a time. Ouch.
As extreme as that sounds, it could be worse. King Francis I of France (1494-1547) instituted the DEATH penalty for anyone wearing a beard or mustache! Who knew facial hair was such a touchy subject?
Although Peter's beard tax wasn't a direct result of monetary woes, most of his taxes were. Burdened down by the cost of modernizing his military and waging wars, Peter was highly motivated to generate revenue. He even formed a special committee to invent new taxes. Newly taxable items included: horses, horse collars, beehives, stamps, private bathhouses, marriage licenses, candles, chimneys, hats, and anyone who wasn't baptized. He even taxed drinking water!
Apart from the beard tax, Peter's most memorable tax was the "soul tax." It was a tax on all males, except the clergy and nobility, with a double tax on the "Old Believers." (As with the beards, Peter saw the Old Believers as a throwback to ancient Russia.) The soul tax eventually made up over 50% of the government budget, which did wonders to fund Peter's military endeavors.
As you'd imagine, people wanted to avoid the new taxes as much as possible. When Peter instituted a direct household tax, people started grouping a number of houses together as "one house." That, was a good solution. Skipping town to avoid the soul tax? Not so much. If you skipped town, the village itself would have to make up the loss....which would definitely come up in conversation at the next block party you attended.