Ancient Roman tattoos

russell-crow-gladiatorHello to all! Today I would like to speak about a strange topic: tattoos in the ancient Roman age. Some people could argue that tattoos are only a modern garnish, but in this article I will explain the contrary.

Firstly, during the Ancient age tattoos were solely a matter for Barbarians. Ancient Britons, Celts and Germanic people used them in order to scare their enemies and to tell apart one tribe from another one. Interestingly, the name “Britons” arises from the word birith, which means to paint something or someone.

On the other hand, Romans did not immediately get tattoos, because they were considered as a barbaric custom. In fact, the first among the Romans to got a tattoo were slaves and gladiators, who came from different regions outside the Roman state. Sometimes the merchants of slaves tattoed them in order to humiliate their personality.
Following the slaves, there were the Roman soldiers who admired tattoos. At the beginning they started painting the symbol SPQR (Senatus PopulosQue Romanus, the Senate and the Roman people) on their own body. Neverthless, when the Roman military machine started to be organised in many legions, soldiers began to get a tattoo of the symbol SPQR and their legion’s number. This tattoo was not only a honorary symbol, because of the fact that being in the Roman army was absolutely one of the best career of the Ancient age, but furthermore it served the purpose of capturing deserters.
Moreover it is worth – highlighting the fact that veteran legionaries were used to get a tattoo of the legions’ symbols. For instance, the Gemini, the Taurus, the elephant… Sometimes the symbol of the legions was the star sign of their general. For example it is believed that Octavian Augustus’ soldiers got a tatoo of the Capricorne, because they were attached to their commander, whose star sign was, interestingly, a Capricorne.


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