Historama, September 5

A tsarist tax on beards, the beginning of the Soviet “Red Terror” and heroic swimming by a Red Army commander highlight today’s Historama.

­Tax imposed on beards

On this day in 1698, Tsar Peter the Great imposed a tax on wearing beards. It came after his trip to Europe, which inspired him to transform Russia into a European empire… starting with fashion! On several occasions he cut off the beards of noblemen himself. Those who didn’t want to shave had to pay quite a large sum of money. As proof of payment they were given special metal coins. Meanwhile, beards were still allowed for clergy, monks and peasants.

­Bolsheviks launch Red Terror

And on this day in 1918, Soviet authorities launched the so-called “Red Terror.” The decree permitted the arrest of anyone who wasn’t a Communist. It was initiated by Vladimir Lenin, who a few days earlier had nearly been assassinated by socialist-revolutionary terrorist Fanny Kaplan. The tough law was portrayed as the only adequate response to the “White Terror” of the counter-revolutionaries.

­Chapaev sinks in Ural River

And today in 1919, the famous Red Army commander Vasily Chapayev died trying to escape from White Army soldiers by swimming across the Ural River. Following his death, he became one of the most celebrated heroes of the Bolshevik Revolution… and was immortalized in books and a movie called “Chapayev.”  Later he and his fellow soldier Pyetka became the subjects of numerous Russian jokes.

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