When Did Peter the Great Order Beards Shaved?

Evgeny Akelev

Abstract


At first glance, the question of the exact date of the beard shaving decree might seem insignificant or too narrow. In reality, however, this tiny issue could play an important role in discussions of how Russia was transformed in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Oddly enough, there is no consensus on the date when Peter ordered his subjects to shave their beards in scholarly literature. The author of this article summarises all the available sources on this subject, both those previously used by historians and those he has uncovered, including documents from Peter’s personal chancellery, the Privy Chancellery, the Moscow chancelleries and local authorities, as well as testimonies of contemporaries (Zhelyabuzhskii’s diary, the autobiography of Prince Boris Kurakin, the diary of Johann Georg Korb, etc.). The author concludes that, on the one hand, the introduction of beard shaving was apparently conceived by Peter the Great during his Grand Embassy or immediately afterwards. On the other hand, considerable tangential evidence and financial accounts of the Moscow chancelleries confirm that a formal prohibition on wearing beards apparently had not existed before the decree of January 1705. Consequently, the author assumes that beard shaving was gradually introduced in Russia. Peter first planted the idea in the minds of members of the elite through playful shaving spectacles and personalised oral decrees, allowing its diffusion among ever widening circles of people. By the end of 1704, Peter might have concluded that his subjects were prepared for a legislative ban on maintaining a beard. Indeed, by the time Peter’s famous 1705 decree was announced in Russian cities, many of his subjects had already parted with their facial hair, and they did so voluntarily.


Keywords


Peter the Great; the Petrine epoch; cultural reforms; beard shaving; power and society; everyday practices

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15826/qr.2017.4.270

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