Over 2,000 years ago, Egypt was considered one of the biggest and most influential countries of the world. Surrounded by several different warring countries, including the famous Roman Empire, the country distinguished itself in its religious pursuit of wisdom. Alexandria, an Egyptian city, was a mecca of literature back then, with copies of almost every scroll and book in the world stored there. While Egypt certainly looks nothing like it once did, Egyptian tattoos and gods are still very popular—and awesome! There are also thousands of designs to choose from.
This gallery contains over 50 designs for different kinds of Egyptian tattoos for you to peruse. Egyptian tattoo designs also have much more to them than their beauty. Use this page as a hub of knowledge to learn all about Egyptian tattoo symbols and meanings. Whether you’re looking for an Egyptian cat tattoo or an Eye of Horus tattoo, this page has all the meanings you could need.
Believe it or not, those hieroglyphics are closely related to our modern alphabet! The letter A is based on the shape of an ox, the O is an eye, while the letter E is a very small stick figure. Putting the images side-by-side, it’s easy to see that Egyptian letters are true to the origins of the alphabet, and not just stylized versions that were easy for people to replicate. Along with a normal alphabet, the Egyptians had pictorial symbols, similar to Chinese kanji. These symbols could be the ankh, a scarab, a bird, or even one of the gods—and combining them gave different meanings to the symbols. While they may look awesome to just slap on as a tattoo design, keep in mind that they function just like words and letters of the English language, so you’ll want to double-check their meaning and grammar!
Egyptian Symbol Tattoos
With all that said, there are multiple ways to spell, write, and design Egyptian symbol tattoos. The most literal way is to copy what you see in the archaeology books. The Egyptian symbol for family, for example, has an ankh, followed by a foot, followed by an eye over a foundation, and then the heads of the family as full figures sitting on a raised platform. That’s pretty long, but thanks to the nature of hieroglyphs, they can easily be scooted into a design.
Here’s where the trouble occurs. There is more than one way to spell ‘family.’ The second known way is a god with an ibis head facing right with a swirl above a foundation and two reeds, most likely representing the two heads of the household. On top of that, the god faces right rather than left. It’s simpler and looks completely different, which means any tattoo with it would have a completely different tone. The ancient Egyptian symbols for sisters, mothers, strength, protection, and so on also varied. In a language that uses images to depict meaning—just as much as it did sound—it’s difficult to find one ‘right’ way to make an Egyptian symbol tattoo.
Thankfully, there are a few universal symbols that can stand as tattoos all on their own. The Egyptian symbol of life is an Ankh. It’s a cross with a loop on the top and has lots of religious significance. Earth, air, fire, and water were all doodles of the elements we know today. The only difference is that the stones of earth are filled with swirls and the flowing water has an inexplicable heart symbol paired with it. If you would like more authentic Egyptian symbol tattoos, I would still recommend sticking to these simple one-symbol tattoo designs. Their meaning is much more straightforward and won’t get any archaeologists arching their eyebrows at you when you’re out in the wild.
Eye of Ra Tattoos and Eye of Horus Tattoos
The Eye of Ra and Eye of Horus might seem like two parts of a whole, but they are actually separate entities. Each has their own role in the pantheon of Egyptian gods. They act as their own being, rather than extensions of their original owners. The Eye of Ra is a feminine entity that represents the sun and good luck, while the Eye of Horus is masculine and represents protection.
That means that the Eye of Ra is technically a goddess, and when you look at the tattoo designs, it’s readily apparent. A red disc situated behind a goddess in a tattoo design means that she has been imbued with the power of the sun. The rebirth of the sun each day can only be the accomplishment of a dedicated mother, so it’s only natural that it gravitates towards the ladies. The Eye of Ra is known for its ferocious and scathing temper and often destroys the enemies of Ra. Pairing Eye of Ra tattoos with a lion or cobra works best, as these were both forms that the goddess could take. Read more about the Eye of Ra tattoos on this page.
On the other hand, the Eye of Horus is a masculine counterpart. Where the Eye of Ra represents the sun, he represents the moon. The Eye of Ra watches over the living, while the Eye of Horus looks after the dead. In a way, they are the same—they offer power and protection. This is why many tattoos have both a right and left eye depicted. Even the ancient Egyptians would call this the Eye of Ra instead of its proper title every now and then. Even so, it was a popular symbol, and sailors even painted it on their ships to ensure a safe voyage. I go into much more detail on the eye of Horus (also called the Wedjat) in its own post.
Every now and then, the All-seeing Eye is brought up in reference to Egyptian history. It’s the eye of a god, which the Egyptians were keen on deifying on their own. On top of that (or, rather, beneath it), the design often sports a pyramid. The eye caps the pyramid, symbolizing the divine power that rules over it. It’s only natural to assume that All-seeing Eye tattoos are Egyptian in nature! In reality, the symbol is from the 1700s and related to the founding of the United States of America, rather than ancient Egypt. The pyramid iconography is only present because it represents the Christian trinity. You can read all about that in the detailed All-seeing Eye article.
Speaking of pyramids, Egyptian pyramids have a special meaning when used as tattoos. Pyramids are used as symbols of strong foundations, with a base that can stand the test of time and a cap that can weather any storm. On top of that, they represent hidden wisdom. Who knows what’s lurking in their tomb? Perhaps the remains of a pharaoh? Something forbidden and locked away for good? Or maybe something so sacred that it deserves a monument in and of itself. The Egyptians accomplished an amazing feat when they built the Great Pyramids. They are thousands of years old and their shadows can even be seen from space! I write about the intricacies of Pyramid tattoos in this article.
Beyond Egyptian tattoos, there are plenty of unique pyramids that have their own meaning. From the Mesoamerican step pyramids to the strange pyramid depicted on the United States dollar, the meaning of the pyramid has changed with time…just as the meaning of its tattoo counterparts! Mesoamerican pyramids (and usually Aztec pyramids) were the site of all sorts of religious ceremonies. The steps would be inscribed with instructions for ceremonies, myths from long ago, and the history of the people who built it. Some builders even used the position of the sun to create some unique light effects that only occur on the two equinoxes. It’s very cool to watch a ‘feathered serpent’ made out of light descend the pyramid steps. They were a literal pillar of the cultures that created them and continued to grow around them.
This doesn’t even go into detail about the symbolism of the triangle itself. Three is a holy number in many cultures for a reason! It has a very special place in the mathematical world. Despite all this change and discrepancy, a minimalist pyramid is a safe bet for a tattoo that stands the test of time. It’s only fitting, given its inspiration!
There are many major Egyptian gods, but you see four very frequently as tattoo designs: Isis, Ra, Horus, and Anubis. Despite most people calling Egyptian religions a myth, there are many people who still follow Isis, the goddess of nature and magic. Ra, who is sometimes merged with Horus, is a creator god who resembles a falcon or hawk. He is the god of the sun. Anubis is the god of the dead, and often decorated the tombs of Egyptians. He resembles a jackal. The tradition of tattooing for religious regions was very prominent in Egypt, so it makes sense to get an Egyptian god tattoo!
Anubis Symbol and Anubis Tattoos
As long as we’re talking about gods, let’s go into detail on Anubis. Anubis is one of the most widely recognized deities in the world. You might not know who the Egyptian god of embalming is off the top of your head, but you’d definitely recognize the jackal-headed god as an Egyptian character. He was said to originally rule the underworld, but as society changed their beliefs overtime, he ended up ceding this title to Osiris. Anubis still remained a very important god, serving as the guardian of the dead and the one who chose who deserved to serve under Osiris. He determined who would be allowed to pass by weighing their heart against their truth.
Beyond this, not much is known about the jackal-headed god. He has surprisingly little myths surrounding him, despite his persistence into modern times. Archaeologists assume that the black fur mimics the black soil of the Nile and the color of embalmed corpses. This association with regeneration, the night, wisdom, and a hidden world is all we have to go on beyond his major role. I discuss what we do know in much greater detail in my Anubis Tattoos gallery.
In Anubis tattoos, the easiest way to depict the truth is by copying the way the ancients did it and using an ostrich feather. Any feather will do in a pinch, and you can even combine it with other symbols that mean truth, but ostrich feathers are the most decorative plumes around. There are several ways of depicting the god himself, with my favorite being a realistic jackal head donning the typical ancient Egyptian garb. He’s still recognizable, but he looks wicked cool. For a classical rendition, a simple man with a mask-like jackal face will do. He usually carries a flail and an ankh. While we’re on the topic of ankhs…
As I mentioned in the Egyptian symbols section, Ankh tattoos (also called Egyptian cross tattoos) are the most recognizable symbol of ancient Egypt. Even the ancients wore ankhs as tattoos on their bodies. Amulets were in fashion, and the ankh served as a powerful one. The symbol itself is a simple cross with a loop on top. Rather than holding it from the bottom, as most people do with cross-like things in modern situations, the loop at the top was used as a handle. It just made sense. You would often see it held by the pharaoh, gods, and goddesses.
So, what was so important about it? The ankh represented the force of life itself. It had the power to raise the dead. When souls departed to the afterlife, it was an ankh that ‘woke’ them up and allowed them to continue in the next world. In the hands of mortals, ankh tattoos and amulets served to sustain life instead. It was used as a charm to prolong the life of those who wore them.
In modern times, the ankh also represents Neopagan beliefs and several cultural identities. The symbol is easy to recognize and immediately invokes values important to them. To the Neopagans and those who practice Kemetism, it connects them to an ancient religion. To Africans descended from Egypt, it serves as an anchor to their ancestry. To Goths…okay, well, this one is less obvious. I could say that it represents the mysteries of life, just like their shrouded souls…but it actually became popular after a vampire film. Take that as you will. If you want to learn more about ankh tattoos and the meaning behind them, check out my article here.
Egyptian Cat Tattoos
The Egyptians loved their cats. Well, loved might be a bit of an understatement. They worshipped cats. The ancient Egyptian word for them was ‘Mau,’ and it is posited that the Egyptians were the first to domesticate cats 10,000 years ago. On top of emitting adorableness all the time, cats were able to kill rats and snakes—deadly creatures that brought disease and heartbreak. Cats were so important to Egyptians that there are even mummified cat remains from that time period! If a woman was depicted with a cat, it meant she was very fertile. I list all of the Egyptian cat tattoo meanings on this page.
When getting an Egyptian cat tattoo, make sure to skip the cloth collar and add some thick jewelry instead—these cats wore gold, and were placed higher in the social hierarchy than human slaves. But what caused this infatuation with cats? Was it only because of their role as vermin-hunters and proliferous pets? The answer actually lies in thousands of years of worship…
Specifically, it lies in thousands of years of worship of the goddess Bastet! A Bastet tattoo will always have a woman with the head of a domestic cat. Bastet was the only goddess associated with cats. There were some lion goddesses running around, but they just weren’t the tame creatures we know. With that said, any time someone mentions the Egyptian god of cats, they are without a doubt referring to her. You can read about all the meanings and check out tons of images of Bastet tattoos on this page.
First and foremost, she was a goddess of protection. With the power of a lion and the loyalty of a mother cat, she could be ferocious whenever she needed to protect something precious. Families would invite her servants—the cats—into their home and treat them like kings and queens. This was rumored to earn the favor of the goddess, and it didn’t hurt that the cats would also kill mice in the area. Given the proliferous nature of cats, Bastet was associated with fertility. She even held a baby rattle in her hand. Tattoos of her in her cat form are recognizable because they include this rattle and several kittens accompanying her.
Ancient Egyptian Tattoos
Although tattoo has its roots in the word taboo, among other things, this was not always the case. In ancient Egypt, the practice of tattooing was actually considered sacred. By getting a tattoo dedicated to a certain god, you were granted a blessing related to it. This could mean safe pregnancies from a god of fertility, fortune from a god of wealth, and a watchful eye from a god of protection. This practice was widely used in the ancient world, but Egyptians took it to the next level. It was mainly ladies who wore the tattoos—most likely because they were closely associated with fertility. Childbirth was a dangerous activity that most women experienced, so it only makes sense.
It was originally thought that these tattoos marked prostitutes, as they did in Greece, but as evidence mounted the male archaeologists were forced to admit that they were marks of power and piety. They were found on the bodies of high priestesses, royalty, elite, and women of all classes. The current (and much more accurate) interpretation is that they serve as an amulet—something women desperately needed in ancient times.
On top of that, the practice started over 8,000 years ago. I highly doubt that being recognized as a prostitute on first glance would be desirable by women, especially with so many different eras and shifting opinions on the roles of women in society. While prostitutes were certain to wear tattoos in the era, it’s difficult to determine whether they were the original wearers of tattoos or if it was just associated with a woman’s success and availability at a later time.
It would be similar to if the entire female world once wore ear hoops and the tradition fell out of favor in the region. Through the lens of male archaeologists who see them as distinguishing women from the rest, this would look like the mark of a prostitute or sex worker. To people in South Asia, it would be obvious that it was a status symbol and maybe even a symbol of marriage. This is really getting off topic, though!
The most popular ancient Egyptian tattoo was the image of the god Bes. These Egyptian tattoo designs were meant to help with their sex life, fertility, and safety. On top of being found on mummies (which, by the way, is a further testament to the permanence of tattoo art), it is even found on the hips of women in engravings. Egyptians used black, blue, and green ink for their designs. These ancient inks and pigments were innovative and unique for the time period. Magic amulets were commonplace in the time, so lively green or spritely blue tattoos were a way to permanently carry one around. Even without the many symbols we have come to associate with Egypt, these ancient Egyptian tattoos withstood the test of time and are the topic of much research in modern times!
The Best Egyptian Tattoos
Egyptians loved tattooing for religious reasons—there were symbols to instill fertility, power, courage, wisdom, and many other traits. In our gallery below, you can browse over 50 Egyptian tattoos. If you enjoyed this article, feel free to browse our other articles for more design galleries (like Simple Tattoos or UV Tattoos), history articles, interviews, and how-to articles (How Much Do Tattoos Cost?)! As always, thanks for reading!