What does the beard hide?

4:00 AM / Posted by Linda McGregory /

Until the sixteenth century the beard in Russia was in great favor. Its absence was considered an obvious sign of men’s homosexuality. For the damage to someone else’s beard one had to pay fine in the amount of 12 grivnas (unit of currency in medieval Russia). At that time this sum was enough to buy 6 horses or 15 cows or 120 sheep. For the murder of a free woman the criminal had to pay 20 grivnas and 6 grivnas for the murder of a slave.

The fashion to shave beards came to Russia from the West in the sixteenth century thanks to the father of Ivan the Terrible Vasily the Third. According to one opinion he shaved himself to please his young wife, according to the other – because he was homosexual. This fashion did not last long and at the time of Ivan the Fourth anyone who shaved his beard was considered a heretic. Such conservatism in appearance was connected with religion: a person created after the image of God has no right to modify appearance on his own. However Russian women used rouge and ceruse so that their faces looked like masks. May be such situation can be explained by the fact that only Adam was created after the image of God and Eva – from Adam’s rib. Nevertheless having and non-cutting of beard was obligatory: this was the sign of sex and religion attribute.

For many centuries there was only one permitted type of haircut – “chili-bowl”: when hair became too long people went to market place and there the barber put a pot on client’s head and cut everything that came out of the pot. This also concerned only men as women never cut their hair because its length was the sign of beauty. However such beauty could only be seen by a husband: married woman could not go out without headwear. In 1699 Peter the Great issued a decree obligating men to shave beards, wear wigs and foreign clothes. As far as there were a lot of opponents of that innovation Peter the Great even formed special groups of barbers who looked for bearded men in Russian clothes and with one and the same scissors cut the edges of long clothes and beards. This struggle lasted for five years till the interference of “tsarsky pribilshik” (king’s profit-makers). These people, who were in charge of levies and finances, had to invent different ways of earning money for king’s treasury. One of their inventions was special levy for beards. Barbers could not shave all Russian men so it was decided to get both pleasure and profit. On 11th of January, 1705 it was allowed to have or not to have a beard at one’s own discretion but everyone who had it had to pay “beard levy” to the king’s treasury.

That wasn’t the end of repressions with regard to those who didn’t want to get rid off the beard: such men were ordered to wear special suits (“zipun”) with stand-up red collars. Special clothes were invented even for bearded men’s wives. The violators had to pay fine in the amount of 50 rubles or otherwise were sent to “katorga” (penal servitude). The struggle with hair on face continued in the first quarter of eighteenth century and then gradually Russians got used to shaving. Women also began to cut their hair in order to wear wigs. There appeared a special art of intimate hairdo – close haircuts which could be seen only by a man received by a woman without a wig. Then for several decades three women occupied Russian throne. At the time of Catherine the Great many barbers, perfumers and wigs makers came to Russia from abroad. Men were still required to shave their beards and in the nineteenth century bearded men could not be state employee. Women however had their own opinion and said that a kiss with beardless man was like kissing somebody’s bald head or knee.
In the twentieth century the Soviet government considered beards and certain types of hairdos an “ideological sabotage” and continued the struggle commenced by Peter the Great.
As we can see the history of beards in Russia has a tendency to development and endless repetition and one can be badly mistaking saying, “That will never happen again”.



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