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Were tattoos common in the roman army? If tattooed were they from contact with the barbaric tribes they encountered? Forgot to mention that I read the thread in regards to tattoo / brand on RAT. I guess what I'm asking is are there any records of roman officers or legionaries who had tattoos for the legion in which they belonged? Like the military units we have today. Loyalty.
Nope. It has been a very hotly debated topic but the problem is we have a handful of obscure references to "marks" for things like slaves, and mentions of soldiers from the Late Empire, but the problem is the details are not there. There is no detailed description that survives to tell us, let alone illustrate, what it might have looked like, If it was "common" (if seen at all), and what it was used for, etc. (and, "natural" marks like birth marks, scars, etc, seemed to be used far more often to identify people than "marking" them)

The other aspect is as far as - I - can tell, the Romans, and few European cultures, didn't really have a culture of tattoos or marks. Tattoos in general don't seem to have been nearly as popular in the ancient world as they have been in the last 100 years, never mind the last 20. They have certainly become more common now than ever before, and the context has changed a little bit within culture.

For the Romans, things like Armillae and other decoration / military awards (dona) was used for showing-off and making a statement about who you were and what you did. Tombstones, more or less, were used in a similar sense. Roman "legacy" and achievement seemed to be more important to preserve in things like Dona, tombstones, and stories passed down (or written in say annals), than getting a tattoo. Romans tended to favor cremation, which would obviously obliterate any marks (and get forgotten), so it appears they felt it was more permanent or timeless to have it in written in the books or put in stone.

I'm not aware of any mention in Roman context in the 1st century about tattoos, etc.
I really don't know either-but for consideration.

Doesn't settle anything. But still-was this a lost 'art'
I'm inclined to agree! As I myself have found no proof in regards to my question. I fully understand that it wasn't Ink Master back then! Ha! Ha! Thanks for your input.

Glad to read that there's no solid evidence for tattoos among legionaries, certainly in Republican and early Principate times. That was my opinion, and I've confirmed that by going to Goldsworthy's The Complete Roman Army. What had confused me were the references to them in the (otherwise quite good) book Invisible Romans, by Robert Knapp. Trouble is, I am now going to view most of what he writes with great suspicion.
I believe Andy nailed it. Also, the link to the article on the "Ice Man" is not relevant to later European cultures in the sense it was describing a Neolithic example from a Pre Indo-European culture. Tattoos appear to stem from an East Central Asian connection to shamanism. European cultures inclined toward a "gods" concept, and body-marking as a form of art or veneration is "conspicuous by its absence," to steal Gibbon's phrase. Wink
(02-23-2017, 05:40 PM)Alanus Wrote: [ -> ]"conspicuous by its absence,"
I love that - one to remember. Thanks!
 Sorry for coming in late on this thread but the word tattoo is of Tahitian origin so would not have been used in a Roman context. CP Jones uses the words stigma/stigmata but this seems to cover both tattooing and branding in his paper Stigma: Tattooing and Branding in Graeco-Roman Antiquity.

  I was looking up Vegetius on a completely different subject and I noticed that in Book I, Chapter 8 he talks about marking of new recruits. I do not know Latin so if there are any Latin experts feel free to correct me but in Clarke's version Vegetius says

The recruit, however should not receive the military mark as soon as enlisted. He must first be tried if fit for service; whether he has sufficient activity and strength.

In Milner's version it is

The recruit should not be tattooed with the pin-pricks of the official mark as soon as he has been selected, but first be thoroughly tested in exercises so that it may be established whether he is truly fitted for so much effort

 Sixth century doctor Aetius of Amida talked of how marks are inscribed on the face, legs or feet for slaves and criminals or some other part of the body, for example on the hands (or arms) of soldiers, and they use the following ink. Apply by pricking the places with needles, wiping away the blood, and rubbing in first juice of leek, and then the preparation.

Besides tattooing with ink and needles and branding with a hot iron we also have scarification by means of incisions supposedly practised by Ethiopians and later by Huns and some Alans.

These are examples of late antiquity and not the Republic or early Principate though. Aetius (the physician) seems to indicate that there was a big demand for tattoo removals at this time as well so rather than a tattoo showing some form of pride and identification with your unit it was probably a means where the later empire, suffering from constant manpower shortages could round up trained men at short notice and also discourage deserters.  Rolleyes
Michael Kerr

As we all know, much of Roman society during the period in question was influenced by Greek culture and I believe they considered marking the body in a permanent manner was something fit for barbarians, slaves, criminals and prisoners of war. I'll have to dig up the references from the ancient sources to be 100% sure.
Evidently, Joe, tattooing was also "fit" for marking newly-recruited Roman soldiers... as described by Vegetius (through Michael Kerr) in the post just above yours. The "barbarians" of Inner Asia used tattoos within the context of spiritual linkage to animals, particularly the horse-creature (combination of a horse, raptor, and red deer). This would be a positive and intellectually "necessary" use of tattooing, far beyond the shortcomings of Greek and Roman thought. It was also consummate art. Wink

Although not ancient this is a description of the tattooing process from a 17th Century traveller Jean de Thévenot  who was visiting Jerusalem, apparently they had wooden moulds for Christian symbols which were tattooed onto pilgrims, doesn't mention any freehand tattooing which would probably been used in Central Asia but a far cry from modern tattoo shops where you get your grandkids names tattooed on your arm Cool .

Of the manner of marking what one wishes on the arm. We passed the whole of Monday, the 29th of April, having our arms marked, as all the pilgrims usually do: the operation is performed by Christians of Bethlehem belonging to the Latin rite. They have several wooden moulds, among which you choose those you like the best. Next they fill them with charcoal powder. Then they apply them to you in such a way as to leave the mark of what is engraved on them. After that they take your arm by their left hand, stretching the skin tight; in their right hand they have a little stick with two needles, and they dip it from time to time in ink mixed with ox-gall, and prick you with it along the lines made by the wooden mould; that is presumably harmful, and as a rule there ensues a slight fever which lasts a very short time, and the arm remains swollen to three times its normal size for two or three days. After they have pricked all along these lines, they wash the arm and check to see if there is some fault, whereupon they begin again, and sometimes they resume as many as three times. When they have finished, they bandage your arm up very tight, and a scab forms which falls off two or three days later, and the marks remain in blue and never fade.  

 PS. In regard to Pazyryk mummies and the man with the fish tattooed on his right leg. I wonder what the fish symbolized? A god perhaps.

Michael Kerr
(06-15-2017, 04:13 PM)Alanus Wrote: [ -> ]Evidently, Joe, tattooing was also "fit" for marking newly-recruited Roman soldiers... as described by Vegetius (through Michael Kerr) in the post just above yours. 

Right, but by the time of Vegetius (late 4th century AD) the Greek influence upon Rome was waning and the barbarization of the army was well under way. Adding a mark to a recruit already marked was probably not a big deal by then compared to a healthy young 1st century Italian or Macedonian lad fresh off his papa's small farm.
To answer Michael,

The fish tattooed on the Barrow 2 Man's leg, is a burbot.

The burbot is a prized food fish and long lived. Perhaps the tattoo signified a clan animal; today the Ekhirit clan of the Buryats use this fish as their totemic symbol. This type of tattooing has not been found in European cultures during the Roman period, early or late.

As for the "barbarization" of the Roman army? The so-called barbarians created technological and tactical advances, were learned in astrology, and therefore the Romans "borrowed" many steppe conventions, but sophisticated and culturally-meaningful tattoos were not among them.  Rolleyes