Ankh Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

Ankh Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

The Ankh, an ancient symbol of Egypt, is something that everyone has seen, but do you know what it means? Today we’re going to peer back in time to learn a little more about this ancient icon, so that by the time we’re done you’ll have an excellent idea about its symbolism, meanings, and more.

We’ll give you a hint… While it’s commonly called the ‘Egyptian cross’, it’s actually much, much older. Read on and we’re going to tell you all about it!


What is the History of Ankh Tattoos?

So, just how old are Ankh tattoos? Well, while we can’t tell you when the first ones popped up, the symbol itself is definitely ancient enough that it’s got dust on it, as the earliest findings of this symbol date between 3000 and 5000 years B.C.!

Rome wasn’t even founded until 753 B.C., meaning that the ‘Egyptian Cross’ appellation is wildly incorrect. Yes, they are shaped similarly, but the Ankh is anywhere from 2200+ to 4200+ years older – making their ages not even a close thing at all.

Ankhs were depicted in many a tomb, being held in the hands of pharaohs, and sometimes in the hands of deities, such as Isis, Osiris, and Ra, and while it was not specifically tied to one deity, it was definitely tied with the concept of eternal life and even associated directly with the word which meant ‘breath of life’.

These days, it has become quite fashionable, even if a bit of the meaning has been lost over time, but as far as history is concerned the Ankh will always have a place among the most ancient of symbols that we know and still recognize just about anywhere on the planet. Eternal life, indeed… wouldn’t you agree?

What Do Ankh Tattoos Symbolize?

The Ankh is old enough that it has a lot of symbolism behind it. First and foremost, the original meaning of life eternal is definitely still there. Egyptians were quite obsessed with the afterlife, to the point that various talismans were hidden in mummy wrappings to help the deceased in their travels through it!

Food was also left in the chambers, right along with their treasures, and even servants were sacrificed so that the Pharaoh or other important mummified figure wouldn’t have to lift a finger in the afterlife if they didn’t feel like it.

Some have argued that the Ankh is made of the symbol for man and woman and represents eternal life in the form of this union, tying the symbol to both Isis and Osiris, and there is some dispute about the distinctive loop on the top of the Ankh.

Some scholars believe it represents the knot of Isis, while others say it shows a loop of cloth, being used to carry the symbol. One popular theory is even that the loop was a mirror… as ancient as it is, we simply don’t know! The symbol is eternal, but the full origins have been lost in time.


What Do Ankh Tattoos Mean?

Ankh tattoos are often worn as a symbol of life eternal and not just for fans of Egyptian civilization. Gothic subculture, for instance, associates this symbol with the vampire, largely in part from Anne Rice’s ‘Interview with a Vampire’ book series where the original vampires were Egyptian.

Some people wear them as a way to wear a Christian cross with a bit more ‘curve’ and flair to it.

Yes, the Ankh is an older symbol than the cross, but meanings and language evolve over time, and while you can argue that the original meaning is the only meaning, if people associate a meaning with a symbol long enough, the meaning changes.

Don’t believe us? Well, consider this: before Hitler began committing his genocidal atrocities, the Swastika was originally a Sun-wheel, but now when you see one that ancient meaning has pretty much been obliterated with the exception of a handful of ancient carvings in India and Europe.

Meanings change, so if you want to wear an Ankh and call it an ‘Egyptian cross’, then it’s an accurate representation, or you can go with the Eternal life motif of even the associations with Isis and Osiris. It’s ultimately going to be your choice and you really can’t go wrong with Ankh tattoos – there’s no nefarious history there!


Where Do Ankh Tattoos Usually Go?

Placing your Ankh tattoo is going to be an intuitive thing – after all, you can fit the compact symbol just about anywhere. That said, the outer arm is a common placement, with the forearm and the upper arm both being popular choices.

Ankhs are sometimes placed on the chest, over the heart, as well, and some folks will even have their Ankh alone or as part of a larger scene on a more complicated backpiece design.

It’s pretty versatile that way and many like to place it more intimately, with a simple Ankh on their hip that only few will get to see. Give it a bit of thought and the perfect place will come to you.

It’s your tattoo, so it can be as private or as public as you desire – the important part is its beauty and meaning to you.


Characteristics and Styles of Ankh Tattoos

Ankhs come in many sizes and flavors, with simple black and white Ankhs being just as popular as larger, more ornate ones. Colors may be incorporated into the design and while gold is the traditional color, you are by no means limited to that. Your Ankh, your rules!

While most often drawn with a simple, graceful gravitas, some choose to have a little fun, adopting styles such as New School to further exaggerate this well-known image, while others might incorporate a rainbow of colors in their own to stand out from the crowd or to make a specific statement.

Ask your artist if they have any Ankh tattoos in their portfolio and you might well be surprised. For an image that predates Rome by a possible factor of over 4000 years, Ankhs have remained well-recognized and quite ‘in vogue’ and that’s really mind boggling when you think about it.

So, make it your own. There are a lot of Ankhs out there, but only one is going to truly be yours. It’s an exciting chance to really let your creativity shine!


In closing

In today’s article we have taken a deep dive into a very old symbol indeed. Ankh tattoos may well be one of the oldest tattoos ever, predating Rome by a handful of millennia and the carvings are still out there in Egypt to prove it.

Whether you like it as a stylish Christian cross or prefer the Ancient Egyptian interpretation, its age makes it versatile enough to accommodate all interpretations. It’s one of the oldest symbols that we know, so we’d have to say that as far as expressing the concept of eternal life goes, the Egyptians were really on to something with the Ankh!

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