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Here Are the Oddest Taxes Imposed Throughout History

Benjamin Franklin once said, "Only two things are certain in life: death and taxes." History has proved that this statement is indeed true. Governments and rulers of the past have imposed some pretty odd levies on people – from beards and hats to urine and even cowardice! Today, we will take a look at some of the wackiest taxes in history.

1. Beards – Russia 

History's Most Absurd Taxes, Beard token
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
In 1698, the Russian tsar Peter the Great created the beard tax in an attempt to westernize Russian society. Historians believe the emperor considered beards an outdated fashion choice. 
Wealthy citizens who wanted to keep their facial hair had to pay 100 rubles while poorer subjects were allowed to wear the beard for two kopeks a year. Those who paid the tax were given a copper token to carry as proof of payment. On one side of the token was an image of a face with a beard and the words, “The beard is a superfluous burden.”
Bearded men who didn’t pay the tax were often forcibly shaved by the law enforcers. In an unexpected turn of events, beards became a symbol of stature and wealth. The unsuccessful tax ended in 1772.

2. Urine – Ancient Rome

History's Most Absurd Taxes, Ancient Roman latrinae in Tunisia
Ancient Roman latrine in Tunisia. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)
This absurd tax was introduced in Ancient Rome, as urine was considered a precious commodity back then. The ammonia-rich human urine was used for several purposes: tanning, laundering, wool production, the cleaning and whitening of woolen togas (distinctive garment of ancient Rome), and even teeth whitening. Soon enough, entrepreneurial types began collecting urine for profit. Upon noticing this, Emperors Nero and Vespasian slapped a tax on those acquiring urine from public urinals. This tax led to the Latin phrase Pecunia non olet (money does not stink).

3. Soap – England

History's Most Absurd Taxes, Soap
Soap was regarded as a luxurious item in England in the 1700s. The tax was introduced in the country in 1712 and continued for 141 years! Soap makers were charged a high levy on the soaps they manufactured. Many of them couldn’t afford the heavy tax and moved abroad to avoid it. The soap manufacturing process was closely overseen by tax collectors who ensured that the soap makers' equipment was kept under lock and key at night so that no illegal production took place after working hours.
The tax also resulted in soap becoming an unaffordable item for the poor. The common man could finally afford soap only after 1853 when Prime Minister William Gladstone finally repealed it.

4. Cooking oil – Ancient Egypt

History's Most Absurd Taxes, Cooking oil
The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt imposed levies on various goods, including cooking oil. Ancient Egypt’s tax on cooking oil is, in fact, among the first recorded taxes in history. Tax collectors or scribes would go from door to door and check if citizens were reusing cooking oil. If any homeowner was found guilty, they would be given a stern warning and requested to buy fresh oil. Tax evasion in ancient Egypt was punishable by flogging or death.
This tax was taken from harvests and property and paid to the Pharaoh.

5. Cowardice – England


Yes, you read that right. You'd think knights in medieval England had the coolest job. However, if a knight didn’t wish to fight in another war, he could pay scutage, popularly known as 'cowardice tax.' The tax, which was started by King Henry I in the 1100s, allowed knights to skip military service on particular campaigns. Later, King John famously misused this tax and demanded it even when there were no wars.
By the 13th century, scutage evolved into a general tax on knights’ land. It also existed in France and Germany but became redundant by the 14th century.

6. Windows – England

History's Most Absurd Taxes, Windows
The window tax was first imposed in England in 1696 as a sneaky way to collect taxes from the rich. Back then, the government was looking to top its coffers, so they placed a tax on windows! The logic behind this was that poor people only had one or two windows in their homes while the wealthy had lavish homes with dozens of windows. Therefore, larger houses with more windows were penalized, and houses with more than 10 windows had to pay 10 shillings. Moreover, people were taxed for different wall-based openings that didn’t even qualify as windows. 
To avoid the tax, many homeowners began bricking up their windows. This, however, created problems as a lack of natural light and proper ventilation in homes resulted in various health issues. 
The tax was eventually scrapped in 1851.

7. Bachelors – Ancient Rome

ancient rome man

Ancient Romans who wanted to remain a bachelor had to pay a price. Quite literally! In 9 AD, Roman Emperor Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome, levied the Lex Papia Poppaea on unmarried men of 38 years or older and married couples who did not have children. The motive behind the law was to promote and strengthen marriage and prevent immoral behavior. Furthermore, bachelors were banned from attending public games. 
The tax proved to be successful and was imitated in societies across the world soon after. The Ottoman Empire employed a similar tax in the 15th century, and England also taxed childless widowers and bachelors in 1695. In 1919, a tax was imposed on bachelors in South Africa to encourage white families to have children. From 1941 to 1990, the Soviet Union enforced a childlessness tax of 6% on bachelors, single people, and small families. Strangely, the US state of Missouri taxes single men aged 21 to 50 $1 a year even today!

8. Hats – England

History's Most Absurd Taxes, Hats
This tax was introduced by Pitt the Younger in 1784 to raise government revenue. The charge imposed was dependent on the value of the headgear. For expensive hats (such as top hats), it was over two shillings, and for simple flat hats with a retail cost under four shillings, the duty was three pence.
The hats were required to have revenue stamps pasted inside the lining. Hefty fines were issued to hat wearers who failed to pay the tax. There was even a death penalty for those who forged a revenue stamp inside the hat lining. The hat duty was abolished in 1811.
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