The Celts dominated Europe during medieval times of Europe around the time of the Iron Age (c 800-400 BC). Most history of the culture came through Roman accounts as the two nations warred over control of the continent. It is in these accounts of fierce tattooed warriors identified as Celts or Gauls that struck fear in their enemies. The warriors would fight toe to toe with little to no clothing and would wear their hair in spikes and bright colours. All of this, the tattoos, the hair and the clothing were meant to intimidate their foes.
While the history of specific tattoos is blurry, the fact symbolism played a large part in their culture is not. Celtic symbols represented great power and were intrinsic in their culture. The symbols were carved in rocks and were prominent in the art produced at that time. The symbols are typified by interlaced lines featuring spirals, dogs, birds and other animals.
As time evolved and the current tattoo trends lean on historic symbols and designs, Celtic imagery has seen resurgence. What was carved in stone along the farms of Ireland more than a thousand years ago is now carved in skin on people around the world.
Several specific symbols have survived into current folklore and have become popular tattoos. There is the triskelion – an interlocked three spiralled shape. It represents the unity of the physical, mental, and spiritual. It can also stand for eternal life. The triquetra or Trinity Knot is again shows the power of three in their culture. It is three vesical piscis shapes interlocked to form a triangle. It stands for the connection of man, nature, and the cosmos. Then, of course, the most famous symbol is the Celtic cross. It is a standard cross with intricate interlacing design inside and a ring that surrounds the intersection of the cross. This piece of imagery has now taken on many different meanings depending on your faith and on who you talk to. Because little is known of Celtic history before the Romans came, much of their symbols were replaced or co-opted with Christian symbols. Many historians believe the Celtic cross to be a mix of Christian and Druid images that early priests used to convert Pagans to the Roman Catholic faith.
Either way the tribal Celtic tattoos are steeped in a tradition of a once world-conquering clan that are now worn proudly by those who hail from the British Isles or for anyone who loves the intricate designs and woven lines of a Celtic knot.