In human history there were many different tribes which expressed themselves through tattoo art. Among the most well-known tribes to reach the acme of tattoo art skills was the tribe of Aztecs.
The Aztecs were a tribe inhabiting areas near contemporary Mexico City in XIV-XV centuries. They were very religious and spent a lot of their time trying to propitiate their rigid gods. This nation was called the people of the sun as its main task was to support the strength of their solar deity for it to be able to continue its existence. On the other hand, the Aztecs represent one of the greatest ancient civilizations with highly developed science and art, though it is believed that many of the skills they had taken from the Maya peoples. The Aztecs are best known for their pyramids and drawings and compared in that to the great civilization of Egypt.
Aztec Tattoo Designs
This Mesoamerican tribe has left a huge heritage of the tattoo art. The Aztec tattoos are known for their sophisticated designs and diversity. Some of the drawings, and sometimes the entire groups of images were sacred to the Aztecs. Most of their tattoos had spiritual, religious, and ritual significance – for the Aztecs, who lived over six hundred years ago, it was important to worship their gods in their daily lives.
Therefore, the Aztec tattoos had a significant difference in meaning from the one we are used to today – back then, the tattoo was not just a means of expression, it was a continuous solemn ceremony and was used to perform a wide variety of rituals and ceremonies. The Aztec tattoos were meant to worship various Aztec gods. Here are just a few of the many tattoo designs and meanings:
- One of the most important gods for the Aztecs was Huitzilopochtli, the solar deity who gave life and was the guardian of heaven. This god was depicted with a blue or black face. For the Aztecs repeated sunrises and sunsets were a proof that the afterlife existed. However, their tattoos not only depicted the sun itself, but also used symbols of the Aztec language denoting the luminary. In contemporary world, Aztec sun tattoo may be a symbol of belief in the afterlife;
- Another interesting theme of Latin American tattoos is the Aztec dagger. According to the legend, it was used to cut hearts from living people to sacrifice them to the sun god;
- Among the popular images in Aztec tattoos was Tezcatlipoca, the god of the sun and the sky, the patron of soldiers. He is often depicted with his tongue sticking out;
- Both the Maya and the Aztecs worshiped the feathered serpent god – Quetzalcoatl. That was the god of creativity, the god of weather and fertility, as well as the symbol of ancient wisdom. Today, pictures of Quetzalcoatl are among the most popular designs for stylized Aztec tattoos. The snake god was one of the main Aztec gods. It supervised almost all aspects of life. For around two thousand years the feathered serpent god has been of great importance in religion and arts in most of the Central America countries;
- The Sun Stone is known as the Aztec calendar stone or sometimes as the Stone of the Five Eras. The thoroughly prepared stone disk displays the forces of the Universe expressed through five successive epochs of the Universe. Each of these epochs is associated with an endless cycle time measured in a complex calendar system;
- The Aztec cross, very similar to the Egyptian Ankh, was used to denote the force and interaction between physical life (as the temporary and material matter) and spiritual life (as the eternal, spiritual one);
- Another god, Tonatiuh, is depicted in the form of eagle, following the legend of Tenochtitlan city foundation. This bird also was and remains among the most popular tattoo designs.
This people believed that success in battles and in life depended on the gods, thus each person had to express loyalty to them by covering his or her body with special designs. These tattoos also had special places to be made on. Abdomen, chest, and arms were considered to be the core energy centers of the body, thus tattoos were made there. According to the Aztecs’ beliefs, energy runs through these places, and by tattooing these areas they enhanced communication with the gods.
Of course, not all tattoos had religious significance for this nation. Some of the signs could be used to distinguish between the tribes and social classes. Tattoos also indicated the owner’s status and profession. For example, there were specific tattoos for soldiers, slaves, or courtesans.
The Aztec tattoos are easily recognizable due to their geometric shape, colorful and distinct style. They date back to the civilizations of the Maya, Inca and Aztecs. However, the original Aztec tattoos were hardly something like what we call the tattoos in the modern world. Today’s “Aztec tattoos” can rather be called interpretations of the theme.
Currently, Aztec tattoo designs are popular not only because of their meaning, but also because of their unusual, distinct appearance. Images may be both in color and monochromous.
The most common Aztec-style designs today are the sun, the eagle and the snake, or serpent. Also, the Sun Stone is much-loved for tattoos. Less common, but also rather popular are tattoos with sun and moon, as well as the Aztec cross.
Despite of a number of women being fans of this ancient art, Aztec tattoos are most often made by men. The reason might be in their somewhat aggressive style.
Girls tend to be more inclined to subtle tattoo designs – different images only stylized as pieces of the Aztec culture. Speaking of the tattoo design to suit a woman with its meaning, we should mention one of the most influential goddesses in the Aztec mythology. Coatlicue was the goddess of the earth and fire. She represented the beginning and the end of life at the same time. She was a respectable widow of the Sun. This goddess enjoyed great respect; she was honoured as conqueror of the moon and the stars, and the source of death. In addition to the sun, the Aztecs used to make tattoos of other stellar bodies, like the moon and the stars, which remain popular even today, mostly among ladies.
The most popular designs for the girls are stars, images of a woman on the background of the Sun Stone. Drawings are usually of small or medium size. Small Aztec tribal tattoos are made on wrists, shoulders, or ankles. Tattooed bracelets with feathers or rather wide ornamental bracelets that band a subtle woman hand are also quite popular. Sometimes armband patterns can go lower covering the hand. Traditionally, floral designs and stars are mostly for girls. The most popular Aztec-stylized flower is lotus; it’s often graphic and ornamental.
You may notice a greater variety of the Aztec style tattoos for men. Complex images occupying a large area are rather popular. For example, a bright tattoo sleeve covering the whole arm – from wrist to shoulder, or fully tattooed back. Both ornaments and pictures, like gods, are widespread. Aztec warrior tattoo ideas are also rather popular. Men often wear complex designs with lots of interconnected elements. Among popular leg decorations there are different patterns, often short or full leg sleeves or leg bands.
Aztec-stylized skull designs are very popular among both men and women. The first tend to have brutal and cool designs, the latter choose fancier style. Among the other popular designs there are pictures of a lion, a wolf, an Aztec princess or goddess. The dragon symbolizing the serpent god Quetzalcoatl and the eagle – the symbol of another Aztec god – are generally popular designs for tattoos in different styles.
Aztec tattoos often include various twisted patterns with huge amount of elements peculiar for their unique appearance.
A large number of small elements and complexity of images makes the creation of these tattoos a long process, often divided into several sessions.
The unique beauty of the Aztec tattoo art lays among other in the usage of thick lines for their designs. Many of the tattoos have a 3D effect – it seems that they are literally carved into the skin.