View Full Version : Did Ancient Germanics Have Tattoos?

Monday, July 17th, 2006, 10:12 PM
hello there all

I have been trying to find visual references to authentic ancient germanic/nordic tattoos with little luck.

There are many greco-roman and arabic writings offering general descriptions of "tattooed" men, i just wondered if there any specfic designs/motifs/styles that anybody is aware of ??

i think there is a book called "viking tattoo workwook", but am assuming these are modernernised/fantasty designs ???

i have found some motifs such as sun disc, folk knot, shield knot etc , but again not sure if these were used by germanic tribes as "tattoos"

any help appreciated

Tuesday, July 18th, 2006, 12:54 AM
Hope this helps.

Tuesday, July 18th, 2006, 09:36 AM
many thanks , there a few books i have taken note of. i was hoping for maybe any attachments of images and or more sites with tattoo / art examples (traditional)

a question: is there any artwork such as knotwork/motifs UNIQUE to the tribes of the angles/jutes/saxons etc

from the little research i have carried out, theres seems to be a large void between "nordic" and "germanic" artwork ???? with an overemphasis on "norse" ??

I wish to find a traditional germanic/nordic authentic design/style for my first tattoo, and i do not want any confusion with celtic or christanised art (personal choice).

any posted images or links would (again) be appreciated

Sunday, July 30th, 2006, 08:07 PM
i was hoping my learned friends who actually live and breath this history in the homelands would have been able to give me some more of an insight into past and present trends etc . what a poor response from this forum, sad.

Monday, September 4th, 2006, 10:36 AM
This is something i stumbled on when reading a book about wild plants for food and medicine. The author mentions when talking about Odon(Vaccinium uliginosum) don't know the english name for it though. That the juice of the berry was used for tatoos. But I think it was in Alaska. If the Vikings used it i dont know.

They have also found preserved bodies in swamps in scandinavia from even the stoneage. They were so good preserved that they could analyse their stomach contents and see what plants they had eaten.

This could be a way also to find really old preserved tatoos.

Monday, September 4th, 2006, 06:21 PM
Though not Germanic but still Indo-European/Aryan, Scythian and Pazyryk tattoos have been preserved on corpses:



Regarding Germanic tattoos, the Arab traveller Ibn Fadlan had the following to say around the year 1000 about the Rus Vikings: Every man is tattooed from finger nails to neck with dark green (or green or blue-black) trees, figures, etc.

This means that one can use ordinary motifs from Nordic and Germanic art, and such art is often preserved (just search for pics on "viking art" on google.com). When one compares Scythian art and Scythian tattoos, one does find that they are very similar, and this was probably also the case with Germanics.

Some words on Celtic tattoos is found here:

For the Swedish-readers, I've written about the subject here:

Sunday, May 17th, 2009, 10:43 AM
Check out kunsten pa kroppen, Denmark.
Tattoo artist Erik Reime doing fab artwork traditional by hand.
May help you along!


Sunday, May 17th, 2009, 04:15 PM
http://www.historisktatovering.dk/ might also be of interest

Sunday, May 17th, 2009, 04:31 PM


Saturday, January 9th, 2010, 11:46 AM
I have read an account by Islamic traveller Ahmad ibn Fadlan concerning members of the Rus who were heavily tattooed with distinctives designs reminiscent of trees and man-like figures (Yggdrasil and gods?), however i cannot seem to find any other hard evidence which points towards the widespread use of tattoos in pre 1000AD Germanic, such as the fact that none of the Germanic bog bodies have been found with tattoos.

We know by Roman history that it was popular in Celtics culture but when it comes to Germanics with tattoos the items i have found are mainly unstubstanciated rumours such as speak of Christian Northumbrian laws made to prohibit pagan tattoos or tales like that of King Harold Godwinson's corpse being so mutillated that he could only be identified by the tattoos on his chest.

Can anyone find any hard evidence pertaining to this subjext, such as contemporary sources? Information would be greatly appreciated.

Saturday, January 9th, 2010, 02:34 PM
Not sure if there is any hard evidence linked here http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/viktatoo.shtml

Saturday, January 9th, 2010, 04:39 PM
Depends how ancient you mean:

oetzi, the 5300 year old icemummy from the alps had tattooes along the socalled acupuncture lines:


Also Celts and Picts were tattooed:


So it seems logical by association that germanic people had tattooes too

Saturday, January 9th, 2010, 05:05 PM
"Early Iron Age tattooing equipment"

(National Museum of Antiquities, Stockholm.)

Saturday, January 9th, 2010, 05:10 PM

Saturday, January 9th, 2010, 05:24 PM
People think they hurt now adays.. id like to see them get one or two done with those :D

Hauke Haien
Saturday, January 9th, 2010, 06:37 PM
Tattooing seems to be practised across several IE branches, although it should be interesting to determine whether this represents a common inheritance or a later diffusion from one group to the others or perhaps even from an earlier outside source, such as non-IE Europeans.

One could say that apart from decoration they also had medicinal-magical purposes, such as protecting the arm of a warrior, but it is not necessarily true that these things were thought of as disconnected.

In any case, tattoos tell stories about those who choose to wear them. Since people of quality were heavily discouraged from wearing them in recent centuries, it is inevitable that the practice has acquired a negative connotation. This judgment is not true in all cases, though. For example, I would not think less of a woman who looks like this:


Saturday, January 9th, 2010, 07:42 PM
In any case, tattoos tell stories about those who choose to wear them. Since people of quality were heavily discouraged from wearing them in recent centuries, it is inevitable that the practice has acquired a negative connotation. This judgment is not true in all cases, though. For example, I would not think less of a woman who looks like this:

I agree with that 100%. The only way for me to think less of a person who has a tattoo(s) is through their actions and personality. Just because someone has a tattoo doesnt mean they are going to rob you or whatever behaviour people associate with them.

Hauke Haien
Saturday, January 9th, 2010, 07:48 PM
My point is that tattoos can reveal a part of the personality of people and perhaps more reliably so than the mere fact that they have them.

Saturday, January 9th, 2010, 11:17 PM
My point is that tattoos can reveal a part of the personality of people and perhaps more reliably so than the mere fact that they have them.

Certainly so in a day and age where it has become almost trendy to have one. If I see someone with a meaningful, perhaps mythologically-based drawing I am bound to immediately have a better first impression of that person than if they have an Arschgeweih, i.e. one of those ugly, already-gone-out-of-trend antler-tribals just above their buttocks. ;)

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010, 06:24 AM
Half Norman half English historian William of Malmesbury writes that Englishmen of his time were tattooed. In his record of the battle of Hastings (probably taken from first hand accounts of both English and Norman combatants) he says:

'The English at that time wore short garments, reaching to the mid-knee; they had their hair cropped, their beards shaven, their arms laden with gold bracelets, their skin adorned with tattooed designs.'

He mentions tattoos again when in the battle's aftermath the lover of King Harold can only identify his headless body by the tattoos on his chest.

Though there is no mention of the actual designs i guess they would be similar to the Hiberno-Saxon animal art found in manuscripts and metalwork.

Monday, October 10th, 2011, 10:30 PM
Tattoos were common among ancient peoples, especially the Celts, Germans, and Slavs often used body decorations.
Ibn Fahdlan mentions in his "Risala" that many of the Vikings living in Russia had tattoos from their fingers to their necks and in western Russia frozen human bodies have been found that had tattoos of snakes, horses, trees, and swirling patterns.
It is believed that tattoos were made with sharp objects (for scars), fire (for burnmarks), or ink (for detailed drawings), temporary tattoos may have also been used for rituals and there are reports of Vikings decorating their bodies with runes, this kind of temporary tattoos did not have to be permanent so they may have been created with paint that could be washed off again.
After the Christianization of Europe tattoos were condemned as a sign of heathenism and even today tattoos are seen as something that is only used by criminals and proletarians, it can even get you fired in some professions.

Seems to be an interesting site (http://www.geocities.ws/reginheim/everydaylife.html) in general on Germanic history

Used throughout the history of humanity for religious, medicinal, and cosmetic purposes, tattooing can be traced back as far as the human record extends. The ancient practice is mentioned by classic authors in Gaulish, ancient German, and Thracian society, and tattoos can be found on Nubian and Egyptian mummies, but the oldest historical record was discovered in 1991 on a mountain between Austria and Italy. The frozen remains of a 5000-year-old hunter were excavated and found to be bearing several tattoos. A cross on the inside of a knee, six straight lines above the kidneys, and a host of parallel lines on the ankles has led scientists to surmise, because of the tattoo placement, that they served a therapeutic purpose.

Brief history on tattoos (http://www.skintrade.co.za/history.htm)

The Scythian Pazyryk of the Altai Mountain region were another ancient culture which employed tattoos. In 1948, the 2,400 year old body of a Scythian male was discovered preserved in ice in Siberia, his limbs and torso covered in ornate tattoos of mythical animals. Then, in 1993, a woman with tattoos, again of mythical creatures on her shoulders, wrists and thumb and of similar date, was found in a tomb in Altai. The practice is also confirmed by the Greek writer Herodotus c. 450 B.C., who stated that amongst the Scythians and Thracians "tattoos were a mark of nobility, and not to have them was testimony of low birth.”

Accounts of the ancient Britons likewise suggest they too were tattooed as a mark of high status, and with "divers shapes of beasts" tattooed on their bodies, the Romans named one northern tribe "Picti," literally "the painted people."

Yet amongst the Greeks and Romans, the use of tattoos or "stigmata" as they were then called, seems to have been largely used as a means to mark someone as "belonging" either to a religious sect or to an owner in the case of slaves or even as a punitive measure to mark them as criminals. It is therefore quite intriguing that during Ptolemaic times when a dynasty of Macedonian Greek monarchs ruled Egypt, the pharaoh himself, Ptolemy IV (221-205 B.C.), was said to have been tattooed with ivy leaves to symbolize his devotion to Dionysus, Greek god of wine and the patron deity of the royal house at that time. The fashion was also adopted by Roman soldiers and spread across the Roman Empire until the emergence of Christianity, when tattoos were felt to "disfigure that made in God's image" and so were banned by the Emperor Constantine (A.D. 306-373).

From the Smthsonianmag (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/tattoo.html)

A tattooed Pictish woman:

Even the name is confusing: Pict (Pictii) is actually probably a derrogatory nickname given by the Romans to their tattooed enemies; it could mean "Painted."

The ancient Greeks called them the "Pritanni" (which some people think is the origin of the word Britannic). Pritanni means "the People of the Designs" as does the word "Cruithnii," which is what the Gaelic Celts called them.

Read more (http://blogcritics.org/culture/article/picts-tattoos-and-woad/)

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011, 04:26 PM
While we don't know if he was Germanic or not Ötzi did have tattoos.