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Barbed Wire Tattoos: Meanings, Designs, and Ideas

Richard Hale is a tattoo enthusiast who studies and researches tattoo symbolism, meanings, and history.

Barbed Wire Tattoos: Design Ideas, Photos, and More

Barbed Wire Tattoos: Design Ideas, Photos, and More

Barbed Wire Tattoo Design Ideas

Barbed wire—invented to keep animals and humans in or out—was first patented in 1867. Since then, it has also been used in and associated with prisons and detention centers and used in war as well, like in World War I.

Barbed wire tattoos can be designed in various ways and styles. Below, you'll learn your options and see many photo examples. These tattoos are usually worn as an armband or wristband, but not always, and barbed wire can be used to embellish and add flair to any other tattoo design or symbol.

One of the best things about this tattoo is that there is a lot you can do with it. It can be simple or complicated, depending on what you're looking for.

What Does a Barbed Wire Tattoo Mean?

  • The barbed wire tattoo has been associated with the prison system for decades. It has become a symbol of incarceration and imprisonment.
  • It is believed that the barbed wire tattoo has Italian roots: The Italians were getting them to symbolize their time behind bars. Today, you see inmates around the world wearing this design to represent the same thing.
  • The number of spikes on the barbed wire can represent the number of years spent behind bars.
  • One of barbed wire's more common associations is with the Crown of Thorns, the crown Jesus wore when he was crucified. A barbed wire tattoo can allude to the same meanings, and this tattoo might represent Jesus, Christianity, hope, or faith. Some people may consider barbed wire as a Christian tattoo, but most would get a Crown of Thorns tattoo rather than barbed wire to symbolize their faith.

Barbed Wire Tattoo Meanings and Symbolism

Barbed wire can represent positive and negative attributes as a tattoo. Here are a few associations:

  • Protection
  • Strength and Power
  • Incarceration, Limits, or Boundaries
  • Crown of Thorns; Jesus or Faith
  • Hardship or Struggle
  • Victory
  • Solid Foundation
  • Authority
  • Courage and Bravery

The barbed wire tattoo can represent a lot of different things to the wearer, but they commonly represent strength, power, and authority or hardship and struggles. You may have gone through a lot in your life and you want to represent the battle you fought to get where you are. It can be a symbol of victory and perseverance.

Barbed wire tattoos can also represent courage and bravery. This is due to its associations with WWI and with the Crown of Thorns. What soldiers endure and what Jesus went through on the cross were horrific. Soldiers, like Jesus, knew what they were walking into, and still they went. They showed deep courage and bravery to die for what they believed in.

Placement Options

A barbed wire tattoo can be placed in a variety of different locations on the body, though it is most commonly worn as an armband or wristband. They look really good on people who have large biceps and great muscle tone. It really sets the tattoo off.

Some may choose this design as a legband tattoo and have barbed wire wrapped around their leg or ankle. It could also circle your thigh or waist.

Design Options

  • Some may choose a single strand of barbed wire, while others want two or three strands.
  • Some barbed wire has small blades and barbs, some have larger razors and spikes.
  • Some choose to incorporate barbed wire with other imagery, like a heart or a fist, for example.
  • A line of barbed wire can be used to underline or accentuate a word or phrase.
  • It doesn't have to be black—the barbed wire can be tattooed in any color.

Be sure to discuss with your tattoo artist all the different possible variations.

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Read More from Tatring


bill on July 25, 2015:

Truman Capote did research on tattoos he said I never met a murderer without a tatoo

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on February 14, 2012:

*Frank, always great to hear from you pal. Thanks for everything.

*Hyp, so glad you were able to come by. Thanks for the kind words. We are all students in "life".

*Alocsin, I appreciate all your visits. Both male and female are fitting. With so many variations of the chain tattoo, there is always something appealing.

*Pras, always great to hear from you brother. Many thanks for everything. Take care.

*Gypsy, very bizarre, but unique I would say. They are very creative when you take a close look.

*F, thanks for all your expertise. You are more then welcome to express your opinion. Thanks.

f on February 13, 2012:

Gypsy Rose Lee: I see what you are saying, but maybe they are not really bizarre: a natural development maybe from the widespread tribal tattoo pattern.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on February 12, 2012:

Now these are quite bizarre but interesting.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on February 11, 2012:

What a beautiful pictures of wire tattoos and your descriptions are well written. Thanks for share with us. Well done a rated up!


f on February 11, 2012:

alocsin: Well, it might or might not on the surface seem a 'masculine' tattoo. But like you say, many women have a barbed wire tattoo design, too. I guess, especially for a lady wearer, it gives a sense of ruggedness and confidence in negotiating the wears and tears of life. In a sense, it might even seem to enhance a robust sense of femininity, but: what do I know?

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on February 11, 2012:

This is certainly a masculine tattoo, although I've seen it on a lot of women as well. Many of its meanings apply to both genders. Voting this Up and Interesting.

f on February 11, 2012:

always exploring:

I see what you mean by your phrase about folks and strokes, yes.

Re.: 'I don't think I would want one'; I guess you would think the same of other, similar tattoo designs, such as tribal; (unless you meant that you wouldn't want any tattoo)?

There is such a variety of designs, anyway.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on February 11, 2012:

These are certainly different..I don't think I would want one, but I see many do. I worked with a nursing asst. who had one on her ankle...Is this where you can say, " Different strokes for different folks? " HaHa...

f on February 11, 2012:

lyricwriter: Interesting hub. Barbed wire tattoos seem to me to be a kind of development of tribal pattern designs.

Hyphenbird: I guess a barbed heart experience and a barbed wire tattoo go together with some ppl, right?

Brenda Barnes from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on February 11, 2012:

A couple of these look very real and painful. It makes me want to write a poem about a barbed heart. You are forever a teacher and I am student of this art.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on February 11, 2012:

wow some people can be so creative with barbed wire :) up and awesome my friend :)

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