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Article

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. 2020. Vol. 61. No. 1-2. P. 81-104.

This article is the first in existing scholarship to examine Peter the Great’s famous decree on the taxation of beards from an economic perspective. Through an analysis of the decree in conjunction with other aspects of Russian state financial policy at the beginning of the eighteenth century, it argues that Peter had counted on this tax to replenish the Treasury at a critical moment when state resources were on the brink of complete exhaustion as a result of the gruelling Northern War with Sweden combined with a twofold drop in the value of the rouble. Based on new archival evidence, the study demonstrates the untenability of this policy, on the one hand due to Peter and his advisors’ over-optimistic assumptions about the prosperity of their Russian subjects (the beard tax was unreasonably high), and on the other, because the government overestimated their administrative capacity to implement the decree throughout the realm without provoking resistance.