Mark of a Warrior

According to VFW online, the history of placing permanent ink on the human body dates back to 4000 BC. Cultural anthropologists attribute those first tattoos to several reasons…alignment with a tribe, religious significance, or marking a significant milestone in life. Over the years, tattoos came to be part of the warrior culture.

A Pict warrior, indigenous people of what today is northern Scotland, were known to have quite complex tattoos. Image via Wikimedia commons.

Lars Krutak, a tattoo anthropologist and host of Discovery Channel’s Tattoo Hunter, told Medium’s “War is Boring” blog back in 2014:

“Tattoos and other permanent forms of body modification have been paramount in establishing the status and reputation of warriors for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.”

During the reign of the Roman Empire, soldiers carried over the tradition of tattooing their warriors from the Greeks, who used tattoos to mark slaves and criminals in case they tried to escape. During the Imperial period, there were many mercenaries in the Roman legions. Leaders often decided to tattoo them in case they tried to desert. Soldiers were tattooed with permanent dots known as the mark of SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus). They were used to identify a soldier to his unit even if he was not in uniform.

Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, a well-known late Roman author, wrote the following on the subject of military tattoos for the Roman legions,

“The recruit, however, should not receive the military mark (tattoo) as soon as enlisted. He must first be tried if fit for service…and after their examination, the recruits should then receive the military mark.”

You had to earn your ink.

The Picts

The Picts (my distant ancestors)  lived in the northern and eastern regions of what is now Scotland from the fourth to the ninth centuries AD. They rose from smaller tribes to a large, well-organized society that was politically and militarily powerful. Alex Woolf, a medieval historian at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, tells us, “Picti is a Latin term that means ‘painted people.” This almost certainly refers to the Pictish custom of body painting and tattooing. Roman writers spoke of the Picts being fearsome warriors…savage, barbaric and troublesome.