Though warrior tattoos used to be a relatively unusual choice in the past, the last decade or so has seen a trend towards increased popularity in this niche.
The word ‘warrior’ refers to a particularly brave or experienced fighter or soldier and generally appears in the context of ancient cultures such as the Romans or Celts.
Warrior tattoo meaning
As with every tattoo, what your design will mean is entirely up to you. There are, however, some common associations and cultural meanings related to the image of a warrior.
In general, a warrior themed tattoo can mean:
- Bravery – the discourse around the idea of a warrior often involves words like ‘fearless’ and ‘heroic’. The idea of a warrior is surrounded by notions of fearlessly overcoming opponents and facing battles without hesitation. Warrior designs can symbolize the value of courage and serve as a reminder to go through life without fear.
- Strength – physical and mental strength is one of the key defining characteristics of a warrior – they went into battle, after all, and strength was an attribute vital to survival. In this context, a warrior themed tattoo is a reminder of your own inner strength and the ability to overcome obstacles.
- Discipline – thanks to both the association with military service and the demands of rigorous training, warriors are symbolic of discipline and order.
- Honor – for warriors in every culture, honor was the main guiding principle. Warrior tattoos, therefore, symbolize righteousness, integrity, standing up for your values and beliefs, and a desire to do what is morally right.
Knights – the esteemed warriors of Medieval Europe – were particularly known for their strong code of ethics, and honor was of the highest value to the Japanese samurai.
The well-known samurai practice of seppuku (or hara-kiri) was a ritual suicide by disembowelment – these soldiers would kill themselves to die with honor by their own hand rather than be killed by their enemies.
If a samurai brought shame upon himself in some way, seppuku was a way to restore his honor.
- Masculinity/femininity – although the image of a warrior has conventionally been associated with masculinity due to the traditional view of gender roles, these stereotypes are now shifting. Warrior style tattoos can be a symbol of feminism and gender equality. It’s good to remember that across history, there were plenty of female warriors – including famous historical figures such as Joan of Arc, the Birka female Viking warrior, and Celtic queen Boudica.
As you can see, then, although warriors were closely connected to violence, wars, and bloodshed, the general cultural meaning is not negative at all.
Warriors stand for values, virtues, and characteristics that are considered admirable and positive.
In addition to the general cultural meanings behind warrior style tattoos, many people opt for these kinds of designs for personal reasons – for example, as symbolic of a difficult time they’ve had in their life, the challenges they’ve overcome, and the metaphorical battles they’ve won.
Warrior tattoo designs
‘Warrior’ is a generic term, referring to fighters from many cultures with various appearances and defining characteristics. For your warrior design, consider the following options:
- Roman warrior design – the classic image of an ancient warrior in Western culture is that of a Roman soldier. Ancient Rome was famed for its immense and virtually unbeatable military and the numerous battles and wars. Recognizable by their distinctive helmets, iron, and leather armor and bare legs, Romans are among the most popular choices for warrior tattoos. They are often depicted armed with a sword and shield or a spear.
- Samurai warrior design – a warrior class native to ancient and feudal Japan, the Samurai are characterized by their highly elaborate costumes, helmets covering the whole face, and being armed with a katana – a traditional Japanese sword.
Samurai were the upper class of warrior in Japan – an elite caste of martial arts masters. They placed great importance upon mental and spiritual strength as well as physical ability, practiced meditations, and were deeply influenced by Buddhist and Zen philosophies.
As mentioned above, honor was of utmost significance to the Samurai – death was preferable to dishonor to these ancient warriors. Check out our dedicated article on Japanese tattoos for more information on the tattoo style and techniques.
- Celtic warrior design – Celtic warriors are characterized by their minimal use of armor – they are often depicted bare-chested – ritual tattoos, and savage appearance. Typical weapons include large swords, axes, javelins, and slings. To further accentuate the Celtic theme of the tattoo, many people opt for adding other Celtic symbols such as the Celtic knot to the design.
- Viking warrior design –Viking warriors are distinguished by their characteristic style of armor and, in the case of male warriors, long beards. Often depicted with a sword and shield or an ax and shield, Vikings are most commonly associated with power, protection, and magic.
- Native American warrior design – with bare chests, long hair, and a distinctive feathered headdress, Native American warriors are usually depicted on horseback, armed with a bow.
- Popular culture and fictional characters – in recent years, using images of characters from games and movies as tattoo designs has become particularly popular. Examples of common choices include the Spartans from the movie ‘300’ and characters from medieval fantasy-themed games such as Elder Scrolls, Dragon Age, God of War, or Assassins Creed.
The technique and style of warrior themed tattoos vary depending on the design and personal preference. 3D tattoos, done in a realistic style either in all black or in color, are among the top choices.
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Warrior symbol tattoos
Warrior tattoos don’t necessarily need to feature a complete image of a warrior – symbolic elements can be used to convey the same meaning. There are several distinctive elements that can be used alone in design to symbolically signify a warrior, for instance:
- Helmets and other armor pieces – the most common choice among this type of design is the Roman helmet, likely because it’s one of the most popularly recognizable options and its aesthetically pleasing, symmetrical shape.
- Weapons – swords, axes, maces, spears, bows, shields… Whatever your metaphorical weapon of choice may be, it can be used in a tattoo to express the same values and meanings as an image of a warrior, in a more subtle way and as a simpler, often smaller tattoo. The specific type and style of the weapon can even define the class of warrior – for instance, a katana clearly stands for a samurai. Check out our gang tattoo article for similar tattoos.
- Arrows – arrows are rich in symbolism – so much so that we have a whole article about the meaning of arrow tattoos – among other things, they can symbolize the warrior.
Symbolic tattoos, rather than full-blown images of warriors, can be a good choice for those looking for more discrete designs. Warrior designs will usually be intricate and relatively large, often appearing as a sleeve or covering the person’s entire back. The above symbols, meanwhile, will fit in a much smaller design.
Some of these types of tattoos are chosen purely for their aesthetic values – they look awesome, it’s as simple as that – while others are imbued with personal meaning or depend on the cultural symbolism of the warrior for metaphorical depth.
With a range of positive associations and plenty of scope for coming up with a unique design, warrior tattoos are an excellent choice for small and large projects alike.