Our fascination with ancient Egypt will never end.
It seems everyone has a passing knowledge of this culture, their practices, and especially their aesthetic.
Though it is often thought about as an old culture that died out over time, there are still people who worship ancient Egyptian gods.
So if you’re looking to get a tattoo of an Egyptian figure, it’s best to do your research first.
Read on for everything you need to know about the most popular ancient Egyptian tattoos!
Why Are We Still so Interested in Ancient Egypt?
William Shakespeare presented the dramatic tale of Anthony and Cleopatra in 1607.
Many of the iconic looks of the 1920’s were inspired by the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Egyptian themed films hit the silver screen in 1963, and again in 1972.
Katy Perry channeled images of Egyptian gods in 2014, and Chanel sent Egyptian looks down the runway in 2018.
Like anything both aesthetically pleasing and timeless; ancient Egypt has inspired its share of tattoos.
Historians are still uncovering the tattooing practices of the Egyptians themselves.
At first, they thought tattoos were only worn by lower-class females.
Now, there is evidence to suggest that many Egyptians had skin markings.
As a culture interested in opulence and pageantry, it is no surprise that tattoos would be popular in Egypt.
A lot of time has gone into studying ancient Egyptians and their habits.
But there’s still more to discover.
Perhaps that is why we’re still so intrigued by this long-ago culture.
Today’s Egypt may look different, but the shadows of yesterday’s icons remain.
Are you considering an Egyptian tattoo?
Let’s arm you with some information before you head to the shop.
Here, we will explore some of the most popular ancient Egyptian tattoo designs.
We will start with the most iconic Egyptian figure in history:
Cleopatra is the original fashion icon.
Over the years she has been both celebrated and demonized as a ruler.
She had a flair for the dramatic, and many passionate affairs, making her a polarizing figure.
Most of what has been written about Cleopatra was recorded years after her death.
She is often written about either by her enemies, or people with generally sexist beliefs.
She is often criticized for her opulence, ruthless hold of the throne, and sexual history.
In fact, that’s all most people are aware of when they think about this leader of the ancient world.
It is interesting to note that male leaders with the same habits are rarely criticized in the same way.
Our pop culture perception of Cleopatra is based more on the stories around her than her actual legacy.
She is often seen as a femme fatale, a beautiful woman who uses sexual prowess to get what she wants.
Cleopatra’s reputation precedes her, but there’s more to her than many people realize.
Here are some of the many reasons why someone might get a Cleopatra tattoo:
Charm Beyond Physical Beauty
According to most historians, Cleopatra was not the great beauty people think her to be.
She was beguiling and persuasive, and that is not a reputation she earned with her looks alone.
Cleopatra was clever and had a beautiful voice.
She knew exactly how to dazzle people when she wanted something.
For these reasons and more, she is recorded as a great beauty.
It doesn’t have much to do with her physical features.
Cleopatra was not unpleasant to look at.
She just didn’t have the symmetrical, modelesque features we imagine for her.
You may want a Cleopatra tattoo to remind you that some of the most memorable people in history were not classic beauties.
Look past your physical attributes and see the wonderful things you can achieve.
A Cleopatra tattoo symbolizes great intellect, and a capable work ethic.
Cleopatra was not ethnically Egyptian.
She was Macedonian and belonged to the Macedonian Greek dynasty.
Though she was not Egyptian herself, she learned to speak the Egyptian language.
While she was at it, she learned a few other languages too.
She was an incredibly capable leader.
Which leads us to our next point:
In today’s female-forward society, many people turn to Cleopatra as an example.
A Cleopatra tattoo may be a powerful image for a woman in power.
After her father’s death, Cleopatra ruled alongside her brother Ptolemy XIII.
The two were married at the time, something that was customary to keep the royal lineage.
Though Cleopatra was exiled by her brother, she managed to regain control over the throne.
It was customary for a woman to rule with a co-leader.
But Cleopatra is a solo act.
She led on her own for 3 years.
She also co-ran Egypt with her younger brother, but eventually pushed him out in favor of her infant son.
This satisfied the co-leadership tradition while giving Cleopatra the power.
During her reign, Cleopatra kept corruption from spiritual and political authority figures at bay.
She was also generous to the common people during a drought.
She led without seeing a revolt from her people.
What’s more, the economy stayed stable even during the most challenging times.
A Cleopatra tattoo can symbolize women in power and excellent leadership skills.
Ruthless When Necessary
Cleopatra stopped at nothing to maintain her hold over the throne.
She is rumored to be behind the deaths of her siblings, including the 2 brothers she co-ruled with and 1 sister who posed a threat.
During a particularly bloody chapter in history, this was far from the worst thing a Pharaoh did.
But it does make her a complicated heroine.
Are you a complicated protagonist in your life story?
Maybe a Cleopatra tattoo would suit you.
A Flair for the Dramatic
Cleopatra would often dress up as the goddess Isis- not just for the fashion.
She believed she was Isis, incarnated on this earthly plane.
You can find more on the goddess Isis later in this article.
When asked to meet with the Roman officer Mark Anthony, who later became her lover, she arrived in style.
Knowing that Anthony fancied himself a Dionysus on earth, she made herself up to look like Aphrodite.
She sailed toward him on a golden barge, sitting beneath a beautiful canopy.
Her servants, dressed as cupid, fanned her to enhance her regality.
This lavish display, mixed with the smell of Cleopatra’s chosen incense, certainly made an impression.
A Cleopatra tattoo can be a wonderful talisman for someone who’s not afraid to live an over the top life.
Looking for an ancient Egyptian tattoo, but Cleopatra’s not your thing?
Let’s turn our attention to another icon of the ancient world.
King Tutankhamun Tattoos
King Tutankhamun (King Tut) for short, the boy Pharaoh, has been a subject of fascination since his excavation in the 1920’s.
Many of the images associated with ancient Egypt come from the items found in his tomb.
King Tut was not the most famous or prominent Pharaoh in Egypt’s history.
But he has won over our hearts because of his historic discovery, and the treasures within his tomb.
Most grave-sites in Egypt had been ransacked by grave robbers before archaeologists arrived.
But King Tut’s tomb was hidden somehow.
At the time of its discovery, it was full of many beautiful and educational treasures.
People are also enamored with King Tut because of the intriguing stories around his discovery.
There are many theories as to how the young king died and even more about the curse of his tomb.
Why Get a King Tut Tattoo?
This regal image is a popular choice across gender identities.
King Tut’s golden sarcophagus has the kind of beautiful detailing a tattoo artist dreams of.
Many people choose King Tut as a muse for their ink, but they may have a few different reasons why.
One of King Tut’s identifying features is his youth.
He took the throne at the age of 9, and ruled for 10 years before his death.
After the death of his father, he took over the throne with two advisors, Horemheb and Ay.
They worked to reverse some controversial religious choices made by Tut’s father.
Mainly, they restored the polytheistic religious beliefs known to the area.
Many people with King Tut tattoos fancy themselves born leaders.
This is a great design for someone who has felt destined for greatness from a young age.
King Tut’s father, Akhenaten, forbade the worship of many gods in favor of one, the solar deity Aten.
This godly figure is depicted as a solar disc, usually above the sun god Ra’s head.
It was a controversial decision to name Aten the only god.
When King Tut took the throne, he and his advisors overturned the monotheistic system.
They favored Amun- a creator God.
Amun has associations with the sun god Ra, but is a multi-faceted god that combines many aspects.
Amun is often likened to the air, which encompasses everything but can not be seen.
Amun is a ruler of gods, but not the only god.
Sound confusing? Rightfully so!
Amun was thought of as a very mysterious figure and was sometimes called “the concealed god.”
His presence is to be understood with the heart, not the head.
For those who still work with Egyptian gods, a King Tut tattoo is a powerful reminder of their polytheistic faith.
King Tut’s Death Mask
When people get King Tut tattoos, they usually depict his elaborate death mask.
King Tut was buried in a solid gold coffin within other coffins.
Egyptian coffins had a “nesting doll” effect and usually, a person was buried in at least 2-3 layers.
On top of his mummified body lay the famous death mask.
The mask was made from sheets of solid gold, and fashioned into a spiritually significant shape:
- A headdress with blue horizontal stripes. This signifies the wearer’s regality and separates them from common folks.
- The goddess Nekhbet, an emblem of protection for Egyptian peoples.
- The goddess Wadjet, a protective snake goddess associated with Nekhbet.
- A beard, in the image of Egyptian gods.
- A collar, with edges shaped like Falcon heads. Falcons were a symbol of the sun god Ra.
- A spell from the Book of The Dead (on the underside of the mask) to serve as guidance and protection through the underworld.
With this symbolism in mind, the death mask is a deeply spiritual symbol of protection.
You may get a King Tut death mask tattoo if you work in a dangerous field where you face death every day.
If you’re a big fan of mysteries and things that go bump in the night, you may get a King Tut tattoo as an homage to one of the greatest mysteries of the modern world.
Two questions plague the culture around this artifact: how did King Tut die, and is his tomb cursed?
How Did King Tut Die?
King Tut’s death was not recorded.
He seemed to simply disappear from the historic record until his tomb was discovered in 1922.
Modern scientists say King Tut was likely a sickly boy.
They believe he suffered from a host of ailments, including:
- Immune Deficiency
- Cleft Palate
- Curved Spine
The boy king could have suffered from these disabilities due to his inbreeding, a royal custom at the time.
This is the explanation for people who prefer a practical answer.
But some say it would be very hard to prove anything on such an old specimen.
People who prefer a more exciting, romantic story believe that the boy King was murdered.
This isn’t an unreasonable theory, considering how many people would have wanted the throne.
Is King Tut’s Tomb Cursed?
Fans of supernatural stories may get a King Tut tattoo as a reminder; do not mess with mysterious forces!
Disturbing King Tut’s tomb is said to have brought bad luck to all those involved.
Some say it is a coincidence, others believe the sealed air in the tomb may have exposed people to ancient viruses of the time.
Two of the most compelling and difficult-to-explain stories from the cursed excavation include:
The financial backer for the archaeological dig died soon after the discovery of the tomb.
While shaving, he nicked a mosquito bite on his face, which caused a deadly blood infection.
Some people say Carnarvon was already a sick man, and that this was just unfortunate timing.
But according to some people, it was much spookier than that.
Some even say all the lights in Carnarvon’s house went out after he died.
Sir Bruce Ingham
After uncovering the tomb, archaeologist Howard Carter gave his friend Ingham a curiously macabre gift.
It was a paperweight made from a mummified hand.
The hand wore a bracelet that warned anyone who would disturb its resting place.
The warning included the threat of fire, flood, and disease.
Soon after receiving the paperweight, Ingham’s house burned down.
When he tried to rebuild it, the structure was flooded.
Ingham never fell victim to the third part of the curse, but maybe he had given the cursed gift away by then.
Tutankamen tattoos are a beautiful tribute to the mysteries of the ancient world.
But maybe you have something else in mind.
Maybe you want to pay tribute, not to Egypt’s people, but its religious icons.
There are plenty of Egyptian characters who associated themselves with gods.
But sometimes it’s better to go over a Pharaoh’s adorned head and straight to the source.
Egyptian gods are fascinating and aesthetically pleasing, making them a natural choice for tattoo enthusiasts.
Osiris is one of the most well known Egyptian deities.
His associations are with death, rebirth, natural cycles, and fertility.
Some are confused by Osiris because of the duality in his nature.
He is King of the Underworld in ancient Egyptian mythology.
But people also pray to him for matters involving fertility and new life.
This may seem strange, but for someone with a deep connection to nature, it only makes sense.
Everything in nature has its cycle.
Animals hibernate over the winter, vegetation dies and is reborn.
This is a necessary step to welcome fresh new life into the world.
In a spiritual sense, there are times for rest and retreat as well as times for activity and renewal.
The story behind the god Osiris is really an allegory for the natural cycles we all live by.
This somewhat gruesome myth starts with Osiris and his sister, Isis.
We remember Isis from earlier as Cleopatra’s favorite goddess.
Legend has it that Isis and Osiris, brother and sister, once lived on earth and ruled Egypt together.
Just like any other rulers of Egypt, they married within the family to keep the royal bloodline.
Seth, their brother, was jealous of Osiris and all his power.
He not only murdered his brother, he tore him into 14 pieces and scattered them across Egypt.
Hearing about this betrayal, Isis and her fourth sibling, Nephthys, sprung into action.
They searched everywhere for the pieces of Osiris, then bound him together.
This is said to be the origin of Egypt’s mummification traditions.
After Osiris was bound together, Isis was able to bring him back to life.
They had a son, Horus, who Isis hid from Seth.
The boy was later able to get revenge on his murderous uncle.
What does an Osiris Tattoo Symbolize?
An Osiris tattoo is not a decision to take lightly.
He’s the god of gods, and will be a very powerful presence in your life.
People generally get Osiris tattoos for one of two reasons:
Do you identify with the idea of coming back to life?
Maybe you’ve recently had a difficult experience where you had to re-define your values.
An Osiris tattoo may be a good choice!
The ancient Egyptian spiritual structure is based largely on celestial structures.
The moon and the sun are important figures in this belief system.
The moon travels through the sky in two 14 day cycles, which is why Osiris was torn into 14 pieces.
He then dies for 3 days, the exact amount of time the moon goes dark before re-emerging/being resurrected.
If you have a special connection with the moon, this may be the ancient Egyptian tattoo for you.
Isis is more than Osiris’s sister and Horus’s mother.
She is a divine enchantress.
There’s a reason Cleopatra was so drawn to this winged goddess.
Her image is still popular in many pagan belief systems today.
She also has fans in the celebrity world: Rihanna has an Isis tattoo on her chest in memory of her late grandmother.
What do Isis tattoos symbolize?
The story of Osiris is not the only one where Isis can bring someone back to life.
In one story, she goes into hiding to save the infant Horus from his bloodthirsty uncle.
She travels to a small village with seven scorpions.
Because she is disguised as a humble beggar, she is rejected by a rich woman in the village.
When Isis is taken in by a poor village woman, the scorpions get revenge on the person who refused the goddess.
They combine all their venom into one scorpion, who sneaks off into the night to sting the woman’s son.
When Isis finds out what has happened, she rushes to the boy’s aid and recites a powerful incantation.
The spell removes the venom, and he recovers.
This forces the rich woman to re-examine her prejudice.
She apologizes profusely to the goddess and offers to give up all her money.
Isis leaves the village with her spell to avoid future scorpion attacks.
She is not a vengeful god.
She is forgiving and generous.
Isis is a symbol of healing, magic, and wisdom beyond measure.
She is often used as a symbol of maternal love and fertility.
Other Popular Egyptian Tattoos
Some Egyptian symbols look great on their own, or can accompany other Egyptian images, including:
The pyramids are such an amazing feat, people are still theorizing how the Egyptians built them.
A pyramid tattoo can be a symbol of great human achievements.
In the mystical sense, pyramids are triangular, symbolizing the element of fire.
They amplify and raise energy.
Be sure to balance yourself out with some water, air, or earth energy!
Giza’s great pyramid and sphinx is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
The Sphinx has the head of a Pharaoh with the body of a lion.
The lion is associated with Sekhmet, daughter of the sun god Ra.
The potent combination of a solar deity, the power of a lion, and the wisdom of a Pharaoh, make this a stunning symbol.
Like pyramid tattoos, it can symbolize great human achievements.
This Egyptian symbol as a tattoo can also symbolize great strength and power- wield it wisely!
Egyptian Tattoo Ideas
Egypt’s ancient imagery is so beautiful, it’s no wonder it has inspired so much art.
If you approach these symbols respectfully, they can make beautiful tattoos.
Stuck on ideas? Check out our gallery for some Egyptian inspiration!
Is there a different ancient Egyptian symbol you were hoping to find here?
Here’s a handy guide to some further reading and research available on our site: