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Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Sources for historical European tattooing? Reply to topic
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Joe Maccarrone

Location: Seattle, WA USA
Joined: 19 Sep 2003

Posts: 161

PostPosted: Fri 28 Apr, 2006 5:22 pm    Post subject: Sources for historical European tattooing?         Reply with quote

After reading Paul Wagner's Osprey book, Pictish Warrior AD 297-841 -- which I highly recommend, by the way -- I was inspired to search the internet for information on tattooing throughout the historical periods that relate to my interests in arms and armour: Were the Norwegian Vikings who usurped the Picts in the Orkneys tattooed? Before or after they got there? Other 'dark age' Scandinavian/Germanic folks? Which Celts were and were not?

I've searched the internet for sources, and there doesn't seem to be much scholarly information on the net. Web sites of tattoo enthusiasts purport that tattooing was very popular among vikings and Anglo-Saxons in addition to Celts, but documentation seems scant. Apparently that Ibn Fadlan fellow wrote than the Kievan Rus were tattooed "from fingernails to neck," but that's the only source I've found cited on the net. There is general agreement that tattooing waned with the increasing power of Christianity, which disapproved of the practice.

Most of what I've found, when searching on this subject, is pictures of people's Norse or Saxon tattoos, with interlaced-beastie designs... I think these are rather cool, actually, but are they historical? Some say so.

Opinions? Documentation?

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Mark Mattimore

Location: Cincinnati OH
Joined: 04 May 2004
Reading list: 41 books

Posts: 423

PostPosted: Sun 30 Apr, 2006 10:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote


You are correct in that scholarly information is woefully lacking in this subject. I have yet to find a truly good book or website that deals with it seriously.

That being said, the most intelligent book that I've encountered on the history and culture of tattooing is Re/Search #12: Modern Primitives. It's a collection of essays and interviews on just about every aspect of body modification you can think of. And it's a lot more than just people showing off their cool ink (but you get that too). It is very intelligent and treats the subject matter seriously. Even though it was published 17 years ago it's still IMO the single best publication of scholarly information on the culture and history of body modification. Sorry I couldn't be of more help but this is a good place to start.

In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro.
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D. Rosen

Joined: 08 Nov 2004
Reading list: 3 books

Posts: 108

PostPosted: Mon 01 May, 2006 9:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

i haven't heard of actual "tatooing" in the Celtic tribes, but they did use blue-ish body paint from Woad plant and bleached their hair with lime (Barbarian Warriors: Saxons, Vikings, Normans (Brassey's History of Uniforms)).
As for the path of actual tattooing, I've read it was imported from the Pacific Islands by European sailors during the late 15th and 16th Centuries.
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Ken Rankin

Location: North Carolina
Joined: 12 Mar 2006

Posts: 69

PostPosted: Mon 01 May, 2006 10:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here is a link that might be helpful:

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Shane Allee
Industry Professional

Location: South Bend, IN
Joined: 29 Aug 2003

Posts: 506

PostPosted: Tue 02 May, 2006 7:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

At this point in time we have found a good number of bog bodies coming from the Iron Age, and I don't recall any of them having tattoos. If I'm remembering right Ítzi the mummy found in the Alps had tattoos, but these did not seem to be artistic. Seems the idea is that they were more for accupuncture/pressure points with how and where they were at. The other place to look is the tribes of the Steppes, I believe a number of frozen bodies have been found with tattoos.

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Folkert van Wijk

Location: The Netherlands
Joined: 13 Sep 2004
Likes: 2 pages
Reading list: 2 books

Posts: 206

PostPosted: Thu 11 May, 2006 7:27 am    Post subject: Scythian tattoo         Reply with quote

Hi Joe
Also check out this site

Indeed the blue paint (woad) that D. Rosen revered to (I belief) is what the Pictish used for painting their body's.
This is actualy how they got their name Picts (think of our word picture) from.
If i remember it right it is the Roman/Latin word that also sounded like pictorial or picture....


p.s. if you google around on the word woad you will find more info about this woad "paint" ...
You can even find some books with and about more or less (ancient) patterns.

A good sword will only be sharp, in the hands of a wise manů

I am great fan of everything Celtic BC, including there weapons.
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Wolfgang Armbruster

Joined: 03 Apr 2005

Posts: 322

PostPosted: Thu 11 May, 2006 7:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This has nothing to do with actual tattoos, but IIRC Tacitus talks about certain Germanic tribes painting their faces and upper bodies totally black for battle. I could be wrong on this though (I'll check my Tacitus books later).
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