Christian tattooing in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Drawing of a Bosnian Croat tattooed woman.

Christian tattooing in Bosnia and Herzegovina was a widespread custom among Roman Catholics during the Ottoman rule over Bosnia and Herzegovina (1463–1878)[1] and up until the 20th century.


Croats would tattoo their children in order to save them from Turks who kidnapped them in Ottoman Bosnia, while Croatian women were tattooed in hopes of protecting themselves from being taken away by Turkish men into captivity. Tattooing became widespread after the Ottomans would take children into captivity and send them to Turkey where they were trained to be soldiers or servants.

Even today Croatian women in some parts of Bosnia (and Herzegovina) tattoo their hands with Christian symbols and stećak ornaments. This very old custom, used exclusively among Catholic Christians, had a special meaning in the period of the Ottoman occupation. This type of custom has been common throughout history: one example is the Greek historian Strabo (1st century BC) who mentions tattooing among inhabitants of this area,[2] along with another that it is an old Illyrian custom.[3] Archaeologist Ćiro Truhelka researched these types of tattoos in the late 19th century, becoming one of the first to write about and to illustrate them on paper.[4][5]

Bosnian Catholic Croats tattoo their hands and other visible parts of body with Christian symbols (usually with a small cross), like brow, cheeks, wrist, or below neck. This can be seen even today, not only in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but among Bosnian Croat women living abroad.[6][7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Early Age of Greece; Cambridge University Press, p493-496
  2. ^ Ćiro Truhelka:Die Tätowirung bei den Katholiken Bosniens und der Hercegovina (published in Wissenschaftliche Mittheilungen Aus Bosnien und der Hercegovina, herausgegeben vom Bosnisch-Hercegovinischen Landesmuseum in Sarajevo, redigiert von Dr. Moriz Hoernes, Vierter Band, Wien 1896)
  3. ^ Albania and the Albanians: selected articles and letters 1903-1944, by M. Edith Durham, Harry Hodgkinson, Bejtullah D. Destani
  4. ^ Truhelka, Ciro. Wissenschaftliche Mittheilungen Aus Bosnien und der Hercegovina: "Die Tätowirung bei den Katholiken Bosniens und der Hercegovina." Sarajevo; Bosnian National Museum, 1896.
  5. ^ Lipa, Aida. The Austro Hungarian Period in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Cultural Politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Creation of the Western Type of Art.
  6. ^ Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina
  7. ^ Customs and folkways of Jewish life, Theodor Herzl Gaster.

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