The History of Tattoos
It is widely accepted that tattooing was a common practice in many cultures of the ancient world, and in these cultures it was normally associated with artistic motivations, and in most cases mystical or magical interpretations of some kind (protection, luck, etc.). It is curious to discover that after thousands of years many of the images used as tattoos remain the same as those found in modern tattoos today.
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Throughout history the tattoo, as with other forms of body decoration or modification, its realization was also intimately related to sensuality, eroticism, and emotional aspects of the human psyche. At an artistic level, we could make a first basic subdivision of tattoo motifs into two large groups: geometric-inspired tattoos, normally based on repetitive patterns, geometric shapes, masses of color and patterns, and the other major branch of tattooing, the tattoo " figurative ”(which tries to represent real things in a recognizable way), within the figurative tattoo the most popular group of motifs since ancient times, is undoubtedly composed of animals.
In many cultures even today tattoos are associated with magical properties, totems, and the person's desire for identification with the tattooed animal. The symbolism of tattoos in ancient cultures continues to have many points in common with modern tattoos, in all cultures in the world where tattoos are practiced, it is rooted in the deepest and most ancient beliefs of the human being.
The Upper Paleolithic
Many tattoo instruments have been found from this period of history, these simple but effective instruments consist of a disk made of clay mixed with red ocher, and some sharp fish bones that are inserted in the upper part of the disk.
The disk functioned as an "inkwell" or deposit of the pigments, and the fish bones were used to pierce the skin and introduce the pigments under it. Several figurines with engraved designs have also been found, which are suspected of representing tattoos.
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The oldest preserved human remains with clear evidence of tattoos belong to the famous "Otzi", the ice man, a person who lived approximately 5,550 years ago, and who was found in October 1991 in the Alps between Italy and Austria. "Otzi" sports various tattoos on his mummified skin and is in fact the oldest tattooed human found to date.
There are other clear physical evidences prior to Otzi of the practice of tattoos in the Upper Palaeolithic period, one of the most famous examples corresponds to an archaeological site excavated in the caves of "Mas d'Azil" in the French Pyrenees. They found several tattoo tools.
Germany also has a long history related to body decoration. In 1988 an engraved figure was found in the Hohlenstein-Stadel cave, this figure dated 32,000 years old thanks to "carbon 14" represents a person, who seems to have fine lines decorating his forearm, experts are almost certain of that these lines represent tattoos.
The early Egyptians Middle Kingdom
Many ancient cultures used tattoos as a kind of "passport" to life after death, despite the importance of belief in afterlife for Egyptians From this period, there is no indication that the function of tattoos at this time was related to their beliefs and rites related to "life after death."
It is commonly accepted, given the profusion of tattoos found on mummies from this period, that tattoos during the Middle Kingdom were very popular and a socially and culturally accepted practice.
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From 2000 to 3000 BC
Mummified bodies showing different forms of tattooing have been recovered dating from as early as the 11th Dynasty. One of the most famous mummies of this period is that of Amunet, priestess of the goddess Hathor, who was discovered in the city of Thebes. This female mummy shows various tattoos on her body, made up of lines and dots. Tattoo patterns can be clearly seen with the naked eye on the mummy's skin.
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Many other female mummies from this period show similar tattoos sometimes accompanied by ornamental scarifications on the lower abdomen, scarification is still very popular today in some areas of Africa. It is believed that these tattoos made up of series of dots and stripes had a protective and propitious symbolism of the fertility of women. The rhomboid shapes are related to the primitive feminine power of the universe and motherhood.
The oldest tattoo discovered that represents something concrete is of an image of the Egyptian Goddess Bes. Bes is the lascivious goddess of fun, patroness of dancers and musicians. The image of Bes is tattooed on the ankles of dancers and musicians in many Egyptian paintings, and mummies with the same tattoo dating to around 400 BC have been found.
Ancient Greece and Rome
In the early Greek and Roman culture, tattooing was a practice associated with the "barbarian" peoples. The Greeks learned tattoo techniques from the Persians, and they used it to mark slaves and criminals so they could be easily identified if they tried to escape. Later the Romans adopted this practice from the Greeks, since their armies were made up of a significant number of mercenaries, these were tattooed to identify deserters from the army.
Many classical Greek and Roman authors mention tattooing as a form of punishment. Plato argued that individuals guilty of sacrilege should be tattooed and expelled from the republic.
Suetonius, a Roman historian and biographer, relates that the sadistic Emperor Caligula was amused by ordering members of his court to be tattooed at his whim.
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According to the historian Zonaras, the Greek emperor Theophilus took revenge on two monks who had publicly criticized him by having eleven lines of an obscene poem tattooed on their foreheads.
It is also documented that some soldiers of Hadrian's army wore a tattoo related to their membership in the legions, it is also believed that it was a common practice among the legionaries who served on the “Hadrian's Wall”.
The evidence comes to us from the hand of the Roman writer Vegetio, whose work "Epitome of Military Science", written around the 4th century BC, is the only complete work on military practices in the Roman Empire that has survived complete to this day.
Vegetio relates that "recruits had to be marked with the needle with the official emblem of the legion as soon as they were admitted to it, but not before having passed tough physical tests to ensure that they were prepared to serve in it."
We do not know what this "mark of belonging" to the Roman army looked like, although it is most likely that it was the identifying symbol of a specific legion, an identifying number of it, or perhaps some other more general motif such as the eagle, a common symbol present in the imagery of the Roman army.
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On the basis of some scholars there is unquestionable evidence that these marks of belonging to the army were made in the hands of the soldiers. Aetius, a 6th century Roman physician, writes in a treatise about these tattoos, and relates that they were made on the hands of soldiers, and even gives information about the tattoo technique used, in which the tattoo was previously cleaned. area to be tattooed with leek juice, known for its antiseptic properties. Aetio goes even further and details the formula of the ink that was used in these tattoos, which combined pine wood from Egypt (mainly the bark), bronze oxide, and vitriol mixed with more leek juice. This ink was made by grinding in bronze oxide with vinegar, mixing it with the other ingredients to make a fine powder.
The design was made, piercing the skin until blood was produced, and then the ink was smeared over the area, so that it penetrated the wound.
The stigmata. The Latin word for tattoo is "stigma", and its original meaning is still found in modern languages. Among several possible meanings, "stigma" defines "piercing made with a pointed instrument", "distinctive mark made in the flesh of a slave or criminal", and also "mark of disgrace or shame".
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