istock_68xsmallTattooing has been used for many different purposes through the ages. It has not only been seen as a way of decorating one’s body, but as a means of protection against evil, as a way of identifying oneself, and even at one point as a way of sending secret messages during war. Here are some little known facts about the history of tattooing.
In 1991, the 5000 year-old frozen body of a Bronze Age hunter was found in a glacier between Austria and Italy. His body bore several tattoos. Nicknamed Özti, the iceman was so well preserved that you can make out a number of tattoos. These included a cross on the inside of the left knee, six straight lines 15 cm above the kidneys and a series of parallel lines on the ankles. These seem to correlate to acupuncture points.

The 5th century BC Greek historian, Herodotus, tells of a Histiaeus of Miletus, who, imprisoned by King Darius of Susa, sent a tattooed secret message to his son-in-law. He shaved his slave’s hair off and tattooed the message on his scalp. The slave was told that the procedure would cure his failing eyesight. When the hair had grown back sufficiently to hide the tattoo, he was sent off, had his head shaved again so his message could be read and remained as blind as ever. The message instructed the son in law to begin a rebellion.

King Harold II of England had a number of tattoos. After his death at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, his tattoos were used to identify his body.
Many other royals throughout history have been tattooed. The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, had a Jerusalem Cross tattooed on his arm on a visit to the Holy Land. When his sons, the Duke of Clarence and the Duke of York (later King George V) visited Japan in 1882 they both had dragons tattooed on their arms. Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Nicholas II of Imperial Russia all had tattoos. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination sparked the First World War, was also tattooed.
The word ‘tattoo’ is derived from the Tahitian word ‘tatau’, meaning to mark. The word ‘tattaw’ first appeared in Captain Cook’s first voyage accounts, which appeared in 1769. It has been suggested that ‘tatau’ is an onomatopoeic word. ‘Tat’ refers to tapping the tattooing instrument into the skin; ‘au’ to the cry of pain from the person being tattooed.

Winston Churchill’s mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, had a snake tattooed on her wrist. It was fashionable in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for aristocrats, including women, to be tattooed. Tattooing was very expensive initially but as the costs were reduced, the lower classes took it up and the practice fell out of favour with the social elite. The position of Lady Churchill’s tattoo meant that she could cover it by wearing a bracelet.