Peter the Great taxed people for growing beards
January 15, 2007 1:50pm CST
Modern Russia started with the rule of Peter the Great. He realised that Russia should be westernised to ensure its independence. Already fascinating by mechanical inventions, he studied government and business models of the West. But Peter also believed in starting from the bottom and working his way up. He learned ship building from the Europeans he invited to Russia, and built a ship himself, which he captained as Peter Alekseevich. In 1697, he accompanied an embassy to European courts as a carpenter named Peter Mikhailov. He also served as seaman, soldier, barber and, to the discomfort of his courtiers, as dentist. Peter sent Russians to be educated in the West, and imported skilled labour, military and administrative experts from abroad. He encouraged smoking, but taxed tobacco. Because European men usually were clean shaven, he taxed Russians wearing beards. He modernised the calendar, simplified numerals, and encouraged private industry and mining. Remarkably, Peter managed to modernise Russia without borrowing money for his state. Instead, he taxed his citizens heavily. To ensure continual contact with the West, Peter captured the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea from the Swedes and built a new capital, St. Petersburg, on its shores. Peter was a big strong man, 2,04 meters (6' 8'' inches) tall, and unlike previous monarchs, not afraid of physical labour. In November 1724, he dived into the cold northern ocean to assist in a ship rescue. It led to his illness and death.