Tattoos: The History And The Rules

samoan tattoos

Author: dragonsfire

TATTOOS have been a part of warrior culture for centuries — but in Western society they were rubbed out before re-emerging.

It is believed that some Roman and Greek soldiers sported ink, most likely inspired by “barbarian” tribes they encountered. Indeed the Picts of northern Britain were referred to by some Romans simply as “painted people”.

Body art began to be rubbed out across the Roman Empire with the spread of Christianity, although it continued in pagan societies. Centuries later the Vikings were still sporting ink, which disgusted at least one “civilised” Arabian writer who described them as rude, dirty and covered in pictures.

Scared yet? ... Maori tattoos were among the South Pacific styles that impressed European

Scared yet? … Maori tattoos were among the South Pacific styles that impressed Europeans explorers. Source: News Corp Australia

By the Middle Ages and beyond body art was rare in Europe but flourished in other areas of the globe, from African scarification to symbolic markings in South America, parts of Asia and the Pacific. Maori tattoos are a particularly well-known example.

And it was when European explorers and sailors began to mix with the Polynesian peoples that the tattoo began its journey back to Western fashion.

It is thought the name comes from the South Pacific islands — taken to London and also to Australia along with painted islanders to exhibit and the art itself, now on the skin of white seafarer.

Spreading from maritime culture to the military on land, tattoos then leaked into civilian life — where although they were considered racy, they grew increasingly popular over the 20th century.

As for today — well, just look around you next time you’re at the beach.


Tattoo laser boom

Given the popularity of tattoos among military personnel, the Australian Defence Force has a tolerant approach.

While each service has slightly different rules and reasoning, the common factor is limiting how much body ink is visible and advising that personnel seek permission if in doubt.

The Army prohibits most tattoos above the collar or on the hands, although special dispensation can be sought for religious or cultural purposes — and females may have specific cosmetic tattooing.

The Navy prohibits tattoos on the face, ears, scalp or neck and the RAAF likewise — singling out those that are extremist, are likely to be regarded as offensive by a reasonable person, or “undermine the dignity and authority of the air force”.

Tattoo laser boom

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