September 5, 1698. Russian Tsar Peter the Great imposes a taxes on beards as part of a effort to westernise his nobility. The Tsar had just returned from a tour of Europe (where most men were clean shaven) and was determined to revolutionise Russian society, culture and even fashion. As a result of the new beard tax, all men – except peasants and clergymen – had to pay 100 roubles for a copper or silver ‘beard token’, which had a moustache and a beard engraved onto it. The token also bore the message ‘the beard is a useless burden’. The Tsar was not the first leader to fiscally punish the facially hirsute: England’s Henry VIII and his daughter Queen Elizabeth I had launched a similar war on whiskers in the 16th century. The Russian beard tax was finally abolished in 1772.
Also on September 5: The French and British navies wage the Battle of Chesapeake (1781); publication of Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’ (1957); ‘Black September’ Palestinian group takes 11 Israeli athletes hostage at the Munich Olympics (1972); Western Australia abolishes capital punishment (1984).
Born on September 5: Johann Bach (1735), Raquel Welch (1940), Werner Herzog (1942), Freddie Mercury (1946)