Achilles Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

Achilles Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

Achilles tattoos are steeped in symbolism and meaning that goes back thousands of years to Ancient Greece. Due to his status as a hero and warrior, the figure of Achilles has come to represent strength and bravery, so tattoos usually focus on these aspects of his tale. However, his story is also related to vulnerability, which some tattoos focus on instead.

In the following article, we take a look at some of the history, meanings, and symbolism of Achilles tattoos, including some characteristics and common styles of the tattoo.

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What is the history of Achilles tattoos?

Although we can’t know exactly how long Achilles tattoos have been around for, they have been a very popular choice of tattoo for many years. As Greek mythology has always been popular and is only ever getting more appreciation, Achilles tattoos are likely to have been the tattoo of choice for many people for a long time. 

In Greek mythology, Achilles was a brave hero who was prophesised to die the death of a warrior. Wanting to protect her son, his mother Thetis dipped him into the River Styx, making his whole body invulnerable apart from his heels, which is ultimately what would kill him. Achilles’ tale is where the proverb ‘Achilles heel’ comes from. 

Despite his origins in the tales of Ancient Greece, it’s very unlikely that any ancient Greeks would have had an Achilles tattoo, as tattoos were seen as punishment or something only worn by servants to show their status. These tattoos were usually mere marks and did not become decorative until many centuries later.

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What do Achilles tattoos symbolise?

As with all Greek mythology tales and tattoos that represent them, the tale of Achilles has many meanings and is full of symbolism. For this reason, Achilles tattoos are also very symbolic, and can represent things like:

  • Great strength and capability,
  • Vulnerability,
  • Endurance,
  • Hero worship.

Achilles tattoos are usually symbolic of great strength, as Achilles himself was representative of this. Achilles was said to have superhuman strength and was capable of great things. For this reason, tattoos with his likeness usually represent physical and mental strength. 

However, the story of Achilles contains a moral: even the strongest people have their vulnerabilities and weaknesses. In Achilles’ case, it was his heels, which would prove to be his downfall despite his strength. Because of this, many tattoos may symbolise the flaws that can make even the very strong vulnerable. 

Achilles’ tale is one of great endurance, as he had to face many difficulties and challenges to become the hero and warrior he was known as. Achilles had to overcome many struggles on his journey, all of which he endured. So, tattoos in his honour are likely to symbolise endurance and survival in some way, particularly for those familiar with his tale.

The ancient Greeks looked up to Achilles as a great hero, something that has continued over centuries. For many people, getting a tattoo of Achilles is a way to symbolise his heroism and show an affiliation with his story.

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What do Achilles tattoos mean?

Achilles tattoos usually represent strength and power, making them very popular with two types of people in particular.

Among sports players and soldiers, Achilles tattoos are usually chosen for their association with bravery and strength, both physical and mental. These traits are some of the most admired parts of Achilles, and so tattoos in his likeness will usually be used to represent them in some way.

For other people, Achilles is a symbol of protection. Many people believe the symbolism of Greek mythological figures can aid them in some way, and this includes Achilles. His power and strength are usually symbols of his ability to protect and so, having an Achilles tattoo means protection for some people, especially those who believe in the effects of Greek mythological figures.

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Characteristics and styles of Achilles tattoos

Achilles tattoos can be big or small, detailed or minimalistic, and can represent either the whole of his tale, Achilles himself, or condensed parts of his story.

Many Greek mythology tattoos focus on portraiture, presenting the chosen figure in great detail. As we can’t know what Achilles is supposed to look like exactly, many people choose to represent him using details we do know. Some people rely on film portrayals of Achilles to inform the details of their tattoos, while others choose to use literary sources instead.

Others may choose to focus on individual aspects of Achilles’ tale. This might mean choosing the arrow that killed him to represent vulnerability, his shield to show his strength and bravery, or his spear to show his status as a hero and warrior. Whatever is chosen, the symbolism of the tattoo is likely to be unique to the individual.

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Where do Achilles tattoos usually go?

The placement of an Achilles tattoo will usually depend on what kind of tattoo is chosen. Portraiture tattoos of Greek mythological figures are often very detailed and so many need more room. For this reason, a portrait tattoo of Achilles may be placed on the back, chest, arms, or legs to allow enough room to provide enough detail.

Smaller tattoos focusing on a single aspect of the Achilles’ tale can be placed anywhere but are usually placed in areas associated with the story. For instance, some people might choose to place an Achilles tattoo on the back of their heel to show the vulnerability of his story.

Other people might instead choose to place their Achilles tattoo somewhere easily visible, particularly if the tattoo is intended to be used as a reminder of strength or bravery. In this case, the tattoo might be somewhere accessible to the individual, like the forearm. 

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Achilles tattoos can be used to represent strength and bravery, but also vulnerability and weakness. These tattoos usually focus on aspects of Achilles’ tale from Greek mythology, using the hero and his associated symbols to show how even the strongest among us can be vulnerable.

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