Around the same time, the Japanese became interested in the art but only for its decorative attributes. The Horis -- the Japanese tattoo artists --- were the undisputed ancient masters of the color tattoo. Their use of pigments, perspective, and imaginative designs gave the practice a whole new appearance. During the first millennium A.D., Japan adopted Chinese culture and confined tattooing to branding wrongdoers.
In the Balkans, the Thracians had a different use for the craft. Aristocrats, according to Herodotus (500 B.C.) were tattooed to show the world their social status.
Although early Europeans dabbled with tattooing, they truly rediscovered the art form when they explored new cultures in the South Pacific. It was a familiarity with the tattoos of Polynesian and American Indian tribes that introduced tattoos to the modern Europe. The word, in fact, is derived from the Tahitian word tattau, which means, "to mark."
Most of the early uses of tattoos were ornamental. However, a number of civilizations had practical applications for this craft. The Goths, a tribe of Germanic barbarians famous for pillaging Roman settlements, used tattoos to brand their slaves. Romans also tattooed slaves and criminals.
Tattooing was first associated with criminality in the Mediterranean region in the middle of the third century. These labels would include the crime, the punishment and the names of the criminal's victims branded on their foreheads.
In ancient Greece and Rome, slaves with tattoos could never become citizens, even if they were able to buy their freedom. This was because a tattoo was seen as degrading to the bearer. In essence, the tattoos were permanent marks of guilt. Eventually those tattooed out of punishment started to be proud of their markings. Tattoos are still a mark of honor among criminals today.
In Tahiti, tattoos were a rite of passage and told the history of the person's life. Men were marked when they reached adulthood when they got married. When the Turkish Ottoman Empire ruled Bosnia, military authorities tattooed all of the soldiers in order to recognize them in case they chose to flee conscription.
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