Tattoos in Europe


Tattooing began in ancient times. In the era of the Paleolithic were found many mineral pigments and instruments that could be used for cosmetic procedures or for cave drawings. Some discovered skeletons from the early Paleolithic period (40-14 million years B.C.), in Cro-Magnon and South-West France, show that the dead person was painted in red and then decorated.

Until the Neolithic period (4000-1700 B.C.), were found some drawings in the area of Torsos, Hungary. These drawings looked like ornaments, made on the chests and the hips. One of them was discovered in the area of Sparta – a skeleton of a woman who has a drawing on her right thigh that contains four broken lines, on her left thigh she had an image of a rhomb. According to the French researcher V. Carushé, in the era of the Paleolithic and the Neolithic period, people who lived in a warmer climate, had more tattoos than the others.

In 1897, the Danish archaeologist Safus Muller announced that on the territory of NorthEurope during the Bronze Age, tattooing had already existed. Proof of this disclosure are some tiny bronze needles that date from the Bronze Age, which had been found during the excavations that were made there.

The fast spread of tattooing in Europe, happened back in the end of XVIII century. It is a fact that the acceptation of the word “tattoo” in 1773 in England played a huge role for the development of the tattooing in Europe. The Europeans were very interested in the colorful body drawings, but soon after they began to wonder: “Where did the tattoo come from?”

It occurs that tattooing had been popular and wide-spread even in the past.

The tattoo is considered a way of punishing people for particular crimes that they have done. Often the punishing procedure of tattooing is made by branding the skin with hot metal. The place was always visible. After the branding, the wound was covered with a black liquid so that when it heals, it could be easily recognized. Often the same tattoos were made as a stigma, especially in Rome. The procedure was called “deformare stigmatum notis”.

Many of the old traditions still exist in Europe. For example, in the Middle Ages (XIX century), in France, Italy and Germany, the butchers tattooed two axes on their hands as a sign of their profession. People with other professions had their logos too.

In the early years of the Christianity, people tattooed the crucifix of Jesus on their favorite body places or a cross on their hands. The pilgrims went to Jerusalem and had to be tattooed from a priest in order to prove their visit to the holy land. Despite of the ban on tattooing of the Catholic’s church, this tradition lasted until XIX-XX century in Tirol, Westphalia and Italy.

The famous professors Krause, Lombroso in the end of XIX century found that in Germany and Italy, around 1% of people from low social groups had tattoos. This tradition was associated especially with the criminals, the soldiers and sailors.

Soldiers often chose tattoos of war attributes like bayonets and cannons. The horse riders usually tattooed a helmet on their bodies. Other tattoo designs, preferred by soldiers were inscriptions, names, religious symbols (crucifix, heart), symbols of love (firs letter from the name of the beloved person; heart; two hands).

Lombroso said that the tattoos of some people were on all over their bodies. They started from the hands and chests and even sometimes ended on the genitals. The images were many and different like trees, flowers, houses, birds, women and so on. Some tattooed images plus inscriptions of dark kind like “giuro di vendicarmi” which means “you’ll pay for this”.

According to Durgen’s observations, the inhabitants of England and France were likely to have such tattoos too, especially sailors.


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