Punitive Tattooing; Ancient Greece and the Romans:

The best and earliest examples of punitive tattooing, comes from ancient Greeks and Romans. More specifically the Romans, but it is interesting to mention the Greeks too. The ancient Greeks tattooed both criminals but also their slaves. Indeed they derived the term stigmata (On which the modern Stigma is based), from this practice.
Stigmata meaning a visible mark of created to show the wearers moral depravity.

Indeed the Romans picked up this practice from the Greeks. Criminals were however not the only ones who got tattoos in Roman society. However, tattoos were forced upon criminals. The special characteristic of the tattoos, being the fact that they would also show the specific crime the wearer committed.

Already in these ancient societies in Europe, we saw a very evil use of tattooing emerge. Indeed the main role of punitive tattooing, was to mark the person with their crime, for life. The purpose of this, was for if they were ever released from prison. In such a case, people would be able to look at their tattoo and be aware of their past crimes, ensuring their stigma would linger.

Punitive Tattooing; Feudal Japan:

Chinese Punitive Tattooing; what the Japanese emulated in their own style.

In a whole other part of the world, much later in history, punitive tattooing would emerge again. Japan has quite the illustrious history with tattooing. However, after they began trading much more with China and began trading with the west, in the 1800’s. The Japanese decided to follow suit with the Chinese and tattooing was banned.

But the practice of tattooing was not all gone. One of the ways it survived, was through punitive tattooing, a practice which had to some extent been practiced before, but which was picked up much more now. The Japanese, without even knowing of the ancient Greeks or Romans, developed a very similar practice.

In the Japanese case as well, the tattoo would show your crime for the rest of your life. It might have seemed very smart and practical back in those times. But to our modern minds, we can see that this practice also prevents rehabilitation of criminals. No matter what a criminal would do, his tattoo and its attached stigma would always haunt him.


One of most horrible examples of punitive tattooing in modern time. Is what the Nazi’s did to, especially the jewish, prisoners in their concentration-camps, during WW2. They did everything they could to mark the Jews as horrible “creatures” and so on. With the Star of David badges and more.

But in the camps they went a step further, man, woman and child, it did not matter. Every single Jew got a tattoo to mark them as prisoners and Jews. It was a simple tattoo, but non the less horrible, it was their prisoner number.
Any escapees would be easily recognizable and they would know exactly who the prisoner was.

Like all of the things the Nazi’s did to the Jews, this was a horrible tool for monitoring and degrading their prisoners. Made only more horrible by the fact, that in the Jewish faith, a tattoo prevents you from being rightfully buried.
A truly evil use of tattooing indeed.

Final Comments:

Today there is no longer punitive tattooing. Of course people still, as most people know, get tattooed in prison. They may even get tattoos that fit with their crimes, like ancient criminals did. However, tattoos are no longer administered as punishment for your crimes. Nor are they administered as a visible stigma and mark, of your criminality. Funny enough though, prison tattoos and indeed also gang tattoos, may still be visible markers of criminality.

Hopefully this article has given you some food for thought. At least we no longer have something as cruel as punitive tattooing. We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Please keep your eye on Mediazink for more awesome articles. Don’t forget to follow us on FacebookYouTube and Instagram (@Mediazink_Official), for more awesome articles and other content.