Why are Aztec Tattoos so Popular?
Though the Aztecs have been lost to Western invaders, the tradition of Aztec tattoos has not been forgotten.
Aztec tattoos may be popular because they were considered sacred.
These tattoos are more than just pleasant imagery.
They are considered to be a symbol of devotion to one’s gods.
They also may be popular because of their aestheticism.
Aztec tattoos, almost always done with black and grey ink, are tribal tattoos that have a ferocity about them with intricate lines and even 3D effects.
They have powerful look to them that is rugged and often manly that provides them with a great look on the body.
Aztec tattoos come with some ancient knowledge, like a faint whisper from an old Aztec woman telling you stories from the past.
They celebrate Aztec heritage and the powerful empire itself by telling and retelling its stories through design.
It’s no wonder Aztec tattoos are so popular: they come from a rich past that anyone would be privileged to participate in.
What is an Aztec Tattoo?
The Aztecs and Mayans were incredibly proud of their body art and showed it off as a tribute to many things that were important to them.
An Aztec tattoo used to often be something that was done in honor of an Aztec God.
These tattoos were done in tribute to the Gods, which seems like a great concept for a religion (more tattoos? Yes please!).
Unlike many cultures, tattoos to the Aztecs were empowering and a collective activity that denoted a prosperous life rather than criminal activity or punishment.
They also were more intricately designed than tattoos of many other cultures during the period.
Aztec tattoos were also used to designate a bodily representation of belonging to a specific tribe.
Each type of tattoo designated the person’s warrior status, so everyone could see how powerful they were and knew not to mess with them.
It was a sign of ultimate respect for their accomplishments.
That way, everyone could instantly identify their rank in the tribe by simply looking at that person’s tattoos and show that respect to that member of the tribe.
Aztec tattoos, as we mentioned, are mainly in black or grey ink and typically have some form of a tribal pattern.
They can be of a skeleton, a warrior’s face, or of a woman.
These figures often wear a headdress, which was a symbol of great status to the Aztecs.
They are often different animals or a combination of animal parts, all representing a different God which the Aztecs would get a tattoo to show their devotion.
Another popular Aztec tattoo is of a metal Aztec plate with tribal symbols.
The Aztecs were advanced in metallurgy and made many objects out of gold, copper, and tumbaga (a mix of gold and copper).
This style of Aztec tattoo may be reminiscent of items people have seen in museums and represent the Aztec civilization.
We will discuss more what these tattoo designs mean in the last section.
History of Aztec Tattoos
The Aztec Empire controlled Central American from the 14th to the 16th century.
I call them an ‘empire’ rather than a ‘civilization,’ because they were an advanced empire that dominated their region for centuries, making them more advanced and deserving more recognition in history than simply being a ‘civilization.’
The way we use words in academia to describe certain groups of peoples has the potential to label them as lesser or greater than other groups, so it is important to refer to the Aztecs as not only civilized but a great and complex society that, as we all know, Hernando Cortes on behalf of Spain completely ended.
The Aztec’s were a complex and highly structured society that involved the art of tattooing greatly.
Not much is known about the history of Aztec tattoos, but it is known that tattoos were performed in rituals for Gods such as Cuauhtli or Uitzilopochtle.
Even children were tattooed in Aztec culture; often of certain Gods in the hope that the child would remain faithful to that God and forever see them as their deity.
To instill faithfulness to God, the Aztecs would tattoo them on their chest or wrist.
Body placement mattered greatly for the Aztec’s and certain areas on the body had ritualistic meanings.
The most important concept other than the Gods to the Aztecs was the sun.
In the center of their calendar, the Aztecs worshiped the sun as the bringer of all new life.
This was a popular tattoo for this reason.
If only we had more concrete evidence of Aztec tattoo history, but there’s no doubt that their history is relived through modern-day Aztec tattoos.
Aztec Tattoos and Their Meanings
Aztec tattoos each have a specific meaning, as we’ve discussed, either relating to a God or tribal status.
Today, these meanings have been added to and morphed into modern-day symbolism.
Here are some of the most popular Aztec tattoos and their meanings:
Aztec Sun Tattoo
The Aztecs believed in many suns and even offered human sacrifices to the sun Gods.
The sun represented the entire world and everyone who lived on it.
The sun had a lot to do with Aztec heaven, called Tollan, which only accepted warriors and women who lost their lives in childbirth.
The sun was seen as the end all be all of their people and was cherished rightly so.
Therefore, the sun tattoo symbolizes oneness with the Earth and acceptance for all human beings.
It represents the love we all share for the world.
It also represents protection from evil because the sun is the light in the world and comes up into the sky every day.
Aztec Eagle Tattoo
A common tattoo for an Aztec warrior, this design typically shows the eagle facing to the west with its beak open and its feathers protruding from its head.
It can also be depicted as spread apart with its wings filled with geometric tribal patterns.
Whether it’s a more realistic-looking tattoo or more symbolic, the eagle has a powerful meaning.
This tattoo symbolizes courage, honor, and strength.
The Aztecs would have worn an eagle tattoo to show their tribe that they belong and that they have what it takes to be a warrior.
Aztec Crocodile Tattoo
The Aztecs believed that the crocodile’s body was used to form the Earth.
Therefore, it was held in high regard as a godly figure and was honored on peoples’ bodies with tattoos.
They also typically mixed toad and fish imagery with the crocodile into one interesting tattoo.
The Aztec crocodile tattoo was a tribute to the Gods because of its mythological story, but today it symbolizes strength.
It also symbolizes the aptitude to solve complex problems (such as forming the Earth with your body).
Overall, it represents creation itself.
Aztec Warrior Tattoo
This tattoo typically represented what tribe the warrior belonged to.
The warrior in the tattoo would be dressed the same way are their fellow tribesmen and would symbolize their forever commitment to that tribe.
The Aztec warrior tattoo today symbolizes loyalty, power, and courage.
Often done with a shield or a headdress, these tattoos mean that you have both the heart and the strength of a warrior and that you are committed to those traits for life.
Aztec Feathered Serpent Tattoo
Named Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent was a powerful God who the Aztecs believed to be the world’s ultimate protector.
He was also the God of knowledge and learning in life.
Also, he was considered the God of fertility and creativity.
Being such an important God, the Aztec feathered serpent tattoo has many meanings.
It can mean that you are using the tattoo a token of protection from evil.
Alternatively, the tattoo can symbolize that you are always pursuing more intelligence and want to remember to continue to make attaining knowledge your goal in life.
Aztec tattoos are popular because they signify a warrior power that is very attractive to those who seek more assertiveness in their life.
The main points of their history lie in showing respect to the Earth and mankind and loyalty to their tribe.
These old concepts can relate to how we view Aztec tattoos now because many of their meanings such as protection from evil, a want to attain knowledge, courage, honor, are all part of the character traits and attributes that many of us aspire to today.
Aspiring to one of these traits and deciding to put an image symbolizing it on your body proves to yourself that you are committed to being the person you want to be.
Or, alternatively, you have proven to yourself that you have achieved that goal, for example, bravery, because you have saved someone’s life or helped someone in a dangerous situation.
There are so many personal forms of tattoo choice, but if you choose an Aztec tattoo to express yourself you must remember that you are following a long line of people who have been getting Aztec tattoos and you are part of a great history of tattooing.
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Alyssa Renee Hardy is a writer, curator, and photographer who publishes articles on the topics of the arts, culture, and social justice. She graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology with a degree in fashion business and art history and museum professions. Her experience working with a variety of art institutions, her world travel, and her inquisitive nature provides her with a unique insight. Check out her about page, she would love to connect with you!