• Weird History

The Weirdest Things People Were Actually Taxed For

List RulesVote up the strangest historical taxes.

Everybody expects to be taxed, but what is appropriate to tax? We're all used to taxation on income, imports, vices, and the like. But really, all sorts of things are taxable in theory - if a government (or despot) is determined to do it. Whether people will stand for it is another question. Unpopular taxes can have enormous consequences, as any student of the American Revolution knows.

The taxes below are some of the more peculiar ones to come down through history. Some are millennia old, while others are still current, or very recent. And if you're trying to do your taxes now, at least you don't have to fill out a line in your 1040 about the state of your facial hair.

  • 1
    312 VOTES

    Conegliano, Italy, Levied A Tax On Shadows Cast In Public Spaces

    In 2015, the town of Conegliano, Italy, began to tax shopkeepers 100 Euros per year if their signs created shade on public walkways. (This is not to be confused with shade created by awnings or sidewalk furniture, which is taxed separately.)

    An association of small shop owners led by Lucas Ros, a Conegliano resident, was fighting the law as of 2017. Ros said the law was barely different from paying protection money to the Mafia: “The only difference is that this is legal.”

    Weird tax?
  • Photo: British Library / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    373 VOTES

    Women in Travancore, India, Were Taxed If They Wanted To Cover Their Breasts

    In the early 20th century, the Indian Princely State of Travancore imposed a heavy tax on women from lower castes if they covered their breasts. The tax was meant to enforce dress codes that would allow members of each caste to be identified easily.

    There is a story that one woman, Nangeli, refused to uncover her breasts, and also declined to pay the tax. After being pressured by the tax inspector, Nangeli defiantly cut off her own breasts in protest. She died from blood loss shortly afterward. The king of Travancore eventually abolished the tax. However, although the tax itself is historically well attested, some scholars doubt the authenticity of Nangeli's rebellious act.

    Weird tax?
  • 3
    246 VOTES

    In Sweden, Baby Names Need To Be Approved Or A Tax Must Be Paid

    Swedish parents are required to have every child’s name approved by the national tax agency by the time the child turns 5, or they can be fined up to 5,000 kroner (about $600-$700, depending on currency fluctuations).

    The rationale is that the government reserves the right to forbid names that are offensive or confusing. Some that have been rejected are “Ikea” and “Allah.” One parent, Elizabeth Hallin, named her child “Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116” to protest the law. It's not clear whether she paid the fine the named generated.

    Weird tax?
  • 4
    196 VOTES

    Hubei, China, Levied A Tax For Not Smoking The Right Cigarettes

    In 2009, in an effort to boost the local economy, the Chinese province of Hubei cracked down on the consumption of foreign-produced cigarettes. The province threatened the village of Zhangtiansi with a fine of 1,000 yuan (about $150) if it did not purchase a yearly quota of 400 cartons of cigarettes for public servants.

    The county of Gongan even had inspectors check on local schoolteachers and urged the government to “publically chastise” those who smoked foreign brands.

    Weird tax?