What Were Tattoos Used for in Ancient Times?

Tattoos have been around for thousands of years and were used for various purposes in ancient times. From marking social status to religious beliefs, tattoos have held significant cultural importance throughout history.

Social Status

In many ancient societies, tattoos were a symbol of social status. For instance, in Egypt during the time of the Pharaohs, only royalty and high-ranking officials were permitted to adorn themselves with tattoos. These tattoos were typically placed on the face or neck and consisted of intricate designs that signified their position in society.

Similarly, in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868), tattoos were a symbol of status and power among the samurai class. Full-body tattoos known as “irezumi” were worn by warriors to intimidate their enemies and demonstrate their loyalty to their lord.

Religious Beliefs

Tattoos also played a significant role in religious beliefs in ancient times. In Polynesian cultures, tattoos known as “tatau” were used to depict religious symbols and stories. These intricate designs told the stories of creation and represented spiritual connections to ancestors.

Similarly, Hinduism also has a rich history of tattooing. In India, tattoos known as “pachakutharathu” are still used today as a form of devotion to the goddess Draupadi. This tattoo is believed to bring protection and good luck to those who wear it.

Healing Properties

In some cultures, tattoos were also believed to have healing properties. In ancient Greece, for example, physicians would use tattoos as a form of medical treatment. They would inscribe therapeutic symbols onto the skin using ink made from ash or soot mixed with olive oil.

Similarly, in China during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), acupuncture points on the body could be tattooed with small dots to help stimulate energy flow and alleviate pain.


In conclusion, tattoos have held significant cultural importance throughout history. From marking social status to religious beliefs and even medical treatments, tattoos have been used for a variety of purposes. Understanding the historical significance of tattoos can help us appreciate the art form even more in modern times.