You can tell a lot about a civilization by the taxes it collects. Throughout history, governments have used high taxes to try to discourage certain behaviors (like smoking) and cash in on others. So it's very telling and/or frightening that at various times governments have taxed ...
Over a million people lived in ancient Rome, and one of the big problems was what to do with all those bodily fluids that leaked out of the citizens in an era when advanced plumbing wasn't really a thing. We're talking about an amount of urine that could quickly turn their city into Venice.
Ew. No. Just ... ew.
The Romans liked keeping their city neat and therefore had lots of public toilets scattered throughout the city. They also famously had a sewage system, but not surprisingly, not every toilet was connected to it. Not by a long shot. All those public toilets just had large containers under them, which if left alone would eventually fill up. But luckily, ancient Romans were like the MacGyver's of piss.
Emperor Vespasian was the first one to realize he was quite literally sitting on a liquid gold mine. He started sending people out to collect urine, which he got for free, and then sold it to a huge variety of workmen in the city. These workmen paid a tax for the use of the urine, which was easier than going out and rounding it all up themselves.
Obviously. Wait, what?
So just what did they do with it? Let's just say everyone in Rome must have been walking around smelling like a latrine: Tanners used it to soften leather, and it was especially practical in the laundry, where it was used to get togas that famous bright white. So the city stayed clean, everyone had nice clothes and the government took in lots of tax revenue. Everyone wins.
Finally, drunken urination pays off.
When Vespasian's son pointed out (and rightly so) that this whole thing was utterly disgusting, the emperor supposedly held up a gold coin and said, "It doesn't stink," meaning that money is money no matter where it comes from. Although if it had been in your toga too long it probably would have had a faint smell of piss.
Don't mock, yours is covered in ball sweat.
For being such an awesome guy, Vespasian was rewarded by having his name applied to toilets all over Europe. No, seriously, the word for public toilets is "vespasiennes" in French, "vespasiene" in Romanian and "vespasiani" in Italian. So while Mel Brooks lied to us when he said toilets were named after Prince John, that same scenario really did happen in Italy.
We think of people from the past as pretty lax when it comes to personal hygiene, and compared with today's "Oh-my-God-it's-a-germ-kill-it!" culture, that's probably a fair assessment. However, this wasn't necessarily through lack of knowledge about the benefits of being clean or the lack of desire. No, part of the reason people in England and France were so dirty for so long was the fact that buying soap was discouraged with heavy taxes, because the government decided bathing was the devil's pastime.
Mostly because it is.
Bathing regularly is something that has gone in and out of fashion over the past 2,000 years. While some queens happily boasted that they had bathed only twice in their lives, other people, like the ancient Britons and the odd "eccentric" aristocrat, thought that bathing at least once a week was good for you. The popularity of more regular baths was on the up again in England when King Charles I pissed off Parliament and got his head chopped off. His replacement was the ultrareligious, royalty and Christmas-hating, no-fun Puritan Oliver Cromwell, and it is thanks to him that the English went back to being filthy.
The God-fearing Puritans thought being too clean was ungodly. All that smelling good and being naked and wet -- nothing good would come of it. So to discourage it, they slapped on a huge soap tax, like the massive taxes on cigarettes now. Although Cromwell initiated the tax, when the royal family was restored under Charles II, the king never bothered to change the law. After all, if people were willing to pay to be clean, the king might as well make some money off it.
Via Wikimedia Commons
Capes don't buy themselves.
The tax was in place for 200 years and was taken so seriously that soap makers actually had representatives of the king watch them make all of their soap to ensure that none of it was being made in secret and sold on the black market. When this tax was finally repealed in England in the 1800s, the chancellor supposedly said, "A clean nation is a happy nation," and clothes that you could wash regularly became all the rage. Of course, from that moment on, Britain became the nonstop hedonistic fuck orgy it is today.
Russia pretty much sucked in 1697. Peter the Great, new to the throne and having that awesome name to live up to, had grand plans to modernize the country to catch up to the rest of the world. This led to some great things, such as the construction of St. Petersburg from the ground up. But he thought there was one major thing holding Russia back:
No one in Europe wore beards anymore. Russians, in their long facial hair, looked as ridiculous as someone walking around in 6-inch platform heels with goldfish swimming inside would look today. In an effort to modernize Russia and make it more European than Eastern, Peter the Great made men cut off their beards. And when we say he "made" them, we're talking a man who was known to attack bearded men in the street and forcefully shave them.
But being a slightly reasonable giant psychopath, he also offered them the option of paying a ridiculously heavy tax to keep their long beards. That way, if they had to embarrass the motherland with their fashion faux pas, at least the czar made money off it (the fact that Peter himself couldn't grow a beard probably had nothing to do with his decision).
Via Wikimedia Commons
Honestly, if you let that guy beat you up, you kind of deserved it.
This yearly tax was especially controversial because Russian Orthodoxy said that men needed to wear beards down to their chests. It wasn't just a suggestion, either. Ivan the Terrible once stated that "to shave the beard is a sin the blood of all martyrs cannot cleanse," which to be fair is probably a little extreme on the pro-beard side.
Via Wikimedia Commons
But he could actually kick your ass, so there was that.
Most men found that their love of money and fear of Peter outweighed their religious leanings and shaved. Those who had their beards chopped off saved them and were buried with them to prove (presumably to God) that they had wanted to do the right thing but couldn't (because really, who has that many kopecks to spend on divine facial hair?).