5 September 1698: Peter the Great’s beard tax

Peter the Great modernised Russia

In 1696, after the death of his half-brother Ivan, Pyotr Alexeyevich became Tsar Peter I (pictured). After a trip to Austria, Holland and England, ‘Peter the Great’ decided that Russia had to be modernised to bring it into line with Europe.

One of his most important symbolic decisions was to tax beards and traditional clothing. The tax, which applied to everyone except priests and peasants, was very successful in getting people to adopt more modern garb.

These cultural changes were accompanied by political and military reforms, among them his attempt to turn Russia into a maritime power by greatly expanding its navy.

The port of St Petersburg was founded in 1703 and became the Russian capital ten years later. He also centralised the machinery of government, reducing the power of the nobility.

This allowed Russia to defeat Swedish and Turkish invaders, and to extend Russian control over the Baltic countries, turning it into a major world power. But while Peter made Russia stronger in the short run, his rule set it back in other ways.

He used mass executions to crush dissent, and increased state control over the Russian Orthodox Church, while his decision to strengthen the rights of masters over their serfs prevented the emergence of democracy.

Some even argue that Peter’s use of secret police provided the template for Stalin’s terror, over 200 years later.

• Stay up to date with MoneyWeek: Follow us on TwitterFacebook and Google+

FREE daily investment email from MoneyWeek
Receive our thought-provoking investment email Money Morning every weekday morning, plus occasional promotions, & become a smarter investor.

Please enter a valid email address

To sign up, enter your email address:

MoneyWeek magazine

Latest issue:

Magazine cover
Why you should worry about Greece

...and how to protect your wealth

The UK's best-selling financial magazine. Take a FREE trial today.
Claim 4 FREE Issues

From ADRs to Z scores – all the terms you wish you understood, but were too embarrassed to ask about.

Gervais Williams: if you want real dividend growth, buy small-cap stocks

Merryn Somerset Webb interviews small-cap stock expert Gervais Williams about how penny shares outperform blue chips 'again and again'.

Which investment platform is the right one for you?

When it comes to buying shares and funds, there are several investment platforms and brokers to choose from, with varying fees and charges. Find out which is best for you.

2 July 1928: Women given equal voting rights with men

On this day in 1928, the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act extended equal voting rights to women, lowering the voting age to 21.

Anatomy of a Grexit: how Greece would go about leaving the euro

Jonathan Loynes and Jennifer McKeown, economists at Capital Economics, look at the key issues and challenges of a Grexit, how it might be best managed, and set out a timetable for change.