Encyclopedia of Russian gangster tattoos

Wearable drawings using dyes injected under the skin appeared in Europe at the beginning of the XIII century. They were used by balagan artists, demonstrating an adorned body to the public. Then the tattoos moved to circus art for the same purpose. Unusual art was such a success that in a few decades it was perceived as normal. The enterprising Parisians were the first to open tattoo shops. The craftsmen themselves produced a dye that was injected into the client under the skin for a reasonable fee.

It is assumed that the birthplace of the tattoo is Haiti, where the tribes celebrated with wearable symbols of majority, anniversaries, and puberty. Imported ritual landmark navigator Cook. The word “tattoo” comes from the Polynesian “tattoo” (“drawing”). Underwear symbolism was used by the criminal world as a means of communication and information carrier. Tattoo has become a kind of calling card of the criminal, which is difficult to spoil, and even harder to lose. According to tricks, blatari divided the world into “their” and “strangers”, into thieves and fraers. A criminal past, a number of convictions, a term served or sentenced, a thief’s suit, attitude to administrative authorities, inclinations, character, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, a place in the criminal hierarchy, and even erudition.

In the last century, the criminal police of European countries, including Russia, began to study underwear symbolism of criminals, form tattoo catalogs and analyze them. But then tattoos were perceived only as external signs. At the beginning of the XIX century, the detective of the criminal police of Paris E. Vilok proposed a system of identification of the criminal, built on special signs. A card file was created for Parisian criminals with names, biographies, nicknames, addresses, criminal connections and external features. At the same time, a crime scene artist appeared in Syurth (the criminal security service), who made sketches from the faces of the criminals. For twenty years of service, Vidoku and his subordinates managed to accumulate more than four million cards. It is noteworthy that Eugene Vilok himself was a criminal in the past.

A new milestone in the development of identification occurred in the middle of the last century, when, for the first time in a prison in Brussels, they began to take photographs of convicted criminals and deposit them into a card file. The real revolution in forensic science was led by Alphonse Bertillon. He proposed to measure suspects (there were eleven different dimensions), to take fingerprints and introduce a “verbal portrait”.

Ch. Lombroso, working as a doctor in one of the prisons in Italy and creating psychological portraits of prisoners, was one of the first to note the autobiography of tattoos. The observations of the Italian criminologist were included in his famous album of criminal types. Lombroso believed that by the patterns of the patterns (as well as by all human acts) one can judge the identity of their owner.

The interpretation of tattoos has become for the police a common tool in the fight against crime. But there was no instantaneous return and could not be. It took decades to study underwater painting, and the new direction was gradually cooled. He was assigned to the category of desk theories. The police only registered tattoos, treating them as usual special signs of a criminal. The catalog was used when it was necessary to establish the identity of the deceased, identify or identify the perpetrator, announce a search, etc.

Since the 30s in the Soviet Union, the situation has changed somewhat. Tattoos were forced to study, because they became a kind of tool of the criminal world.

In no country in the world were the convicts as blue and purple as we have (only the Japanese yakuza or the soldiers of the Chinese triads could compete with them). The roots of this phenomenon lie in the same place as the roots of the entire prison-camp subculture. Five or six years ago, criminologists from America, Germany, France were skeptical of tattoo catalogs and condescendingly refused information assistance in this matter.

Today, the CIS has successfully exported crime to Western Europe and the United States. In the structures of the criminal police of many countries, “Russian divisions” have been created, called upon to fight the “fourth wave”. In the Russian quarters, the time had come for the shooting, and police officers increasingly stumbled upon corpses with a characteristic body pattern or on an extortioner painted from head to toe who had passed through “camp universities” in Russia. Willy-nilly had to do the visual art of thieves world.

All information about the tattoos of the Interior Ministry tried to invest in several illustrated catalogs and recommendations to them. This legacy was published, stored and used under the stamp “DSP” – for official use. Only in the early 90s several hundreds of tattoos became the property of inexperienced citizens, appearing in mass editions thanks to the creative diligence of Russian forensic officers Bronnikova, Boldaeva, Dubyagina and others, who studied underwear painting for decades and who had more than one thousand drawings in their private collections and photographs.

The spread of stigma on the body of criminals began on the initiative of state bodies many centuries ago. The distinctive sign was usually applied to the face (for women, on the chest or shoulder) and did not resemble a work of art. Say, on the forehead of a Russian convict, a sign was burned in which the word “kat” was guessed. Over time, the criminal clan helped the detective structures and began to mark its representatives. At the beginning of the 20th century, tattoos became widespread on Sakhalin, in Petrograd, Moscow, and mostly among thieves. The underwear pattern had a hidden meaning and indicated, first of all, that it belonged to a specific criminal group. This helped to quickly establish a connection with the thief of his suit.

The development of underwear symbolism lasted almost half a century, and by the 50th goal of the thieves the world had its own thieves’ tattoo laws. At the same time, the rigid right to wear a certain pattern was confirmed according to the status in the prison-camp system. The body of the prisoner turned into his own business, which far from everyone could read. There was a regular struggle for the authenticity of the symbolism, for the purity of wearable information. “Impostors” were severely punished, even to self-harm or lowering. Even death could follow the “simulation” of camp authority. Blatari tried to protect their tattoos from fakes, inventing new characters, not noticeable, but mandatory details of the picture.

However, camp painting was not a dogma. Fine art was encouraged, the convicts gladly applied reproductions of paintings and photographs, swore on their bodies in love and allegiance to the ladies, reminded of revenge for treason, thanked the country and the leaders for “happy childhood”, etc. But there were characters for which their owner was responsible. Especially blatari hated priblatnennyh – those who try to imitate or posing as a thief.

Many young guys without any secret intent in a romantic outburst punctured the seemingly most seemingly innocent pictures – naked women, cats, daggers, and so on. They did not even try to copy anyone, but only attached themselves to their violent fantasies. When the guys at the whim of fate fell into the zone, then in the very first days during the water procedures they were surprised. At first, they were asked a couple of questions, then followed by a summary: “Frayer. Blatovany” It turned out that the tattoos were offensively exactly reminiscent of thieves’ insignia. It is useless to explain with blatari. It turned out that nothing was branded …

There are several ways to apply a tattoo in the area. The best and unsurpassed dye is Chinese ink. But for many decades she was inaccessible to most of the cons. In the early stages of vocational school used paste for ballpoint pens or, at worst, mascara made from soot, sugar and urine. An ordinary match served as a tool for the introduction of the dye, to which two or three sewing needles were threaded. If there were no needles in the chamber, staples of notebooks or books were used. They were straightened and honed on a concrete floor or wall. A more successful tool was considered a medical needle or syringe, in which it was possible to fill the ink.

A tattoo was rarely applied on its own: they resorted to the help of specialists. Such services were not from small ones, and the camp artist for his skill took a relatively substantial fee. Initially, the outline of the pattern was attacked on the skin, then they began to “acupuncture”. Experienced specialists applied a tattoo without prior preparation.

Later began to use “screen printing”. On a thick piece of cardboard they drew an approved sketch and stuck it with needles. The stencil was applied to the body and beat on top of it. After that, the coloring matter was rubbed into numerous wounds.

Any art requires sacrifice. Body art also. The first inconvenience of a tattoo appears after a few hours. The skin reddens and swells, pain increases, the temperature may rise. If a dangerous infection is not carried, the painful process lasts from several days to several weeks: each organism reacts to a foreign substance in its own way. But it happened that along with needles or mascara, sexually transmitted diseases or other infections entered the body. The owner of the tattoo fell into the medical unit. It also reached surgical intervention when a branded patient with a diagnosis of gangrene was amputated by a limb. In the worst case, he died from blood poisoning. At liberty, outside the zone, similar excesses occur among drug addicts.

Today’s skin engraving mechanisms have gone a long way. An electric razor or special device is used, which acts on the principle of a sewing machine. Before and after the procedure, the skin is treated with cologne or alcohol. Pasta and urine with soot were replaced by top-quality Chinese mascara, which would be delivered to the camp by IUT staff for a small fee.

There is no uniform systematization of tattoos. They can be classified according to many features. First of all – on the subject of drawings, among which there are religious, lyrical, historical, political, pornographic. Often the subject matter is intertwined: the historical story is presented in pornographic performance, the religious side by side with the political (a burning crucifix with the inscription “Believe in God, not communism”), etc.

Tattoos are also divided by their location on the body. The chest is the most popular place for painting. It houses naked women, cathedrals, faces of saints, biblical characters, skulls, animals (including tigers and lions), devils, grave crosses, crucifixes, portraits of leaders, birds, spiders, stars of camp leaders, knights and gladiators.

The back serves for church bells, horseshoes, spiders, musical instruments, skeletons, gladiators! fights. Daggers, snakes, shackles, anchors are punctured on the arms and legs, again spiders, denied knee-stars.

And finally, the head. A swastika is put on the forehead, all the same spiders, abbreviations, short phrases, numbers (dates or articles of the Criminal Code). Text tattoos (abbreviations, aphorisms and thieves sayings) are found on all parts of the body, including the eyelids and genitals.

Tattoos can be systematized according to the manner and complexity of the performance: artistic, fragmentary, ornamental, symbolic, textual. Art tattoo is usually applied to the “engraver” of the highest discharge. It requires sophisticated tools and detailed work. With a skillful approach, the whole panorama is born on the body. Particularly successful in artistic underwear painting was the French school, which for the first time used colored ink.

In the 1930s, the French criminal Charles Briggio created a real masterpiece on his chest: a pornographic picture in color. When Charles rhythmically strained his muscles, the tattoo began to move. With the beginning of the war, Briggio lost his pride. In one of the concentration camps, where he was deported from occupied Paris, a German officer noticed a tattoo. A few days later, its owner was killed, carefully skinned, processed and decorated with her folder SS. In the concentration camps such masterpieces were met with pleasure and had their income from them.

Tattoos are classified by gender (female, male, and “sex”), by sexual orientation, by hidden meaning, etc.

The catalog of tattoos is huge and amounts to tens of thousands. To understand the “purple language”, you need to study it for decades, and even learn to “speak” on it. This section of the book can only give a general idea of the nature and classification of tattoos. It used the material already studied, which became public. This is not a guide to thieves, although most of these tattoos are “removed” from blatari. Perhaps they will stop someone from priblatnennogo stigma, which can cost health, and even life.

Frequently found tattoos

Here is a representative catalog of tattoos that are most often found among professional felons.

Many male tattoos feature women. In this case, the drawing does not necessarily symbolize love or lyrical feelings. For criminal painting is characterized by the lack of semantic binding to a picture or text. A half-naked woman with a flower can symbolize cruelty, a sonorous “GOD” means “was condemned by the state”, and a cat tattoo indicates “the indigenous inhabitants of the prison”.



Seminude woman in hussars, sitting on a gun with a burning torch in her hand.

“There are two beautiful things in the world – love and death.”

Symbolizes loyalty to the woman and the hidden threat of revenge for adultery. Apply to chest or back.




Nude woman tied to a flaming pillar.

“Death for treason.”

Means that the carrier tattoos was convicted of killing a woman. Logs can mean a sentence. Place of tattoo – chest, thigh.



Executioner executing naked women.

The tattoo is sometimes supplemented with the abbreviation “GOD”.

Symbolizes hatred of laws and administrative agencies.




Woman and the devil.

“Love and hate (good and evil) are always there.”

Means that the owner, the tattoo fell into prison because of the woman.

Drawn on the chest or thigh.




Woman on the wings.

The tattoo is small in size, applied to the wrist.

Symbolizes luck, luck, random luck. Most common among thieves.



Nude woman with a burning torch in her hand, prison bars, snake, cross, human skull, ax, money. ‘

‘ Nothing is forever in this world. “” God’s will for everything. ”

Tattoo of camp authority.

May be accompanied by a text about the frailty of worldly existence.

It is applied only on the chest.




Fragment of barbed wire.

A generic symbol indicating that the owner of the tattoo has passed the corrective labor institution.

Applied to the wrist.



Executioner with an ax, a semi-nude woman, scaffold.

Tattooing occurs in individuals convicted of killing a relative (or relatives).

The secondary meaning is “Death to the traitor.”

Drawn on the chest.





Medieval helmet.

Symbol of struggle, brotherhood, determination.

At first it was applied only on the wrist, now it is found on the shoulder and thigh.

Indicates a thief or burglar.



Bayonet. The oldest symbol of the thieves world. Symbolized threat, caution, force. Applied on the wrist, forearm, sometimes on the thigh. Tattoo was found among repeat offenders. Today there is extremely rare.



Nude woman crucified on the cross with the inscription “Amen.”

“I have fully revenged for treason.”

Abstracted symbol of revenge (not necessarily a woman).

Patching is observed among the thieves’ leaders and is applied to the chest or thigh.




Prison guard, rose and dagger.

The host of tattoos was serving time for hooliganism in the educational-labor colony.

Put on the forearm or shoulder.

If the dagger and the rose without a lattice – “Blood for treason.”




The head of a girl.

“The age of majority met in the WTC”.

Tattoo location – shoulder,

less often – chest



Nude woman on a winged wheel.

“Wheel of Fortune”.

Symbolizes faith in luck.

Put on the chest.





Skull pierced with a dagger, a rose, a snake twisting a dagger.

Thieves symbol.

“Our life is a struggle.”

The crown above the snake indicates the tattoo of the thieves’ authority – the thief in law,

the provisions of the watchman.

It occurs on the shoulder, less often – on the chest.



Cross with a chain.

Punctures in the upper chest and points to faith in your rock.

If the cross is depicted as a club suit, then the owner of the tattoo is a thief.




A nude woman entwined with a snake, with an apple in her hand.

Biblical story about the snake-tempter.

“Woman pushed the crime.”

“Woman tempter”.

Drawn on the chest, shoulder.

Tattooing is sometimes found among passive homosexuals (usually on the back).




Hand with a tulip entwined with barbed wire.

“In the WTC. I met 16 years.”

The place of the tattoo is the shoulder.





Hands in shackles holding a rose.

“I met 18 years in the military-industrial complex” (the shackles symbolize a “full-fledged felon”).

Put on the shoulder.

The last two tattoos are also common among women.




Mermaid anchored.

Occurs with sailors and those who have served sentences for rape or sexual abuse.

Less commonly seen in passive homosexuals.

The tattoo is applied to the chest or back.




Pitchfork One of the oldest criminal symbols of Russia.

At first, he served as the hallmark of large raspberries and thieves’ authorities.

He was left on the prison walls, using as a means of communication.

Later began to be applied to the shoulder, thigh or forearm.

Symbolizes the threat force. Now rarely occurs.




Eight-pointed star.

Tattoo camp authorities – thieves in law, denied tillage.

Drawn under the collarbone.



Seminude woman sitting on a magic ball.

Above the head is a crescent.

Symbolizes faith in otherworldly forces.

Apply to chest or back.

It is found in Muslims





A bear holding a medieval ax with a picture of a club suit.

Indicates a bear cub.

It can also mean that the convict was serving his sentence at the “logging site” – in an ITU specializing in logging.

“Law – taiga, scoop – the norm, the bear – the prosecutor.”




Crossed boom and key.

Apartment symbol; thief – burglar.

Drawn on the forearm or thigh.



A woman with a bare chest and pressed to the lips with the index finger. – “Silence!”

Symbolizes distrust of the woman.

“As long as there are women in the world, there will be no secrets.”

Drawn on the chest.




Star of David entwined by a winged serpent.

The owner of the tattoo is Jewish and belongs to the winged camp authority.




Saber without scabbard.

Tattoo symbolizes aggressiveness and secret threat.

Applied on the forearm, wrist.

A saber in the sheath means that the criminal has “tied up”.

It is very rare.



Do not love money – will be destroyed,

do not love women – be deceived,

but love God (or freedom).




Woman, gun, money, bottle, syringe, knife, cards.

“That’s what we love” or “That’s what’s ruining us.”

Symbolizes riotous life, waste.




A lion surrounded by medieval weapons – a sword, an ax, a bow, arrows, maces.

Symbolizes strength and power.

The book before the lion means wisdom.

“Cruel but fair.” Tattoo authorities. Almost always applied to the chest.



Flying demon.

The picture may be supplemented with the inscription “fatum” (rock).

Drawn on the chest and mean cruelty. “My god is the evil Demon.” “Satan pays sins.” Occurs in bulls, fighters and denied.



Tattoo addicts.

Genie flying out of the jar.

Apply to the chest, shoulder, or front of the thigh.




Tattoo addicts.

A spider on the web can gnaw out on the head under the hair.

A spider without a web means pickpocket.



Three cards punched by an arrow.

A badge of card cheaters.




Patching refers to the so-called “grins” and symbolizes the hatred of administrative structures.

Put on the chest.

Accompanied by anti-state texts.




Cupid with a bow, serpent-tempter, pigeons, heart pierced by an arrow.

Artistic tattoo.

“I am tempted by you forever.”

Apply to chest or back.




The dragon flying over the castle.

The tattoo is found in the plunderers of state or collective property, the “tsehovikov.”

It also means complete confiscation of property.

Drawn on the chest and back.




A cat is a native inhabitant of the prison. ”

The image of a cat is caused by repeat offenders comparing themselves with this animal.

In the cat, pride and affection for the house (the thief’s house is a prison) are combined.





The symbol of the power of the pharaoh.

At first, met only at the camp authorities.

Then the thieves who resell stolen things began to impale the tattoo. Now rarely occurs. Applied on the arm.



Burning crucifix with a woman.

“Woman pushed the crime.”

“For treason I will take revenge.”

“Condemned for killing a woman.”



Running deer.

“I was born free and die free.”

Drawn on the chest and indicates a tendency to escape.





“Strength and loyalty.”

Drawn on the chest.




Cowboy with a naked girl on a horse.

The picture may be accompanied by the abbreviation “OMUT” (“It’s hard to leave me”).

It means a propensity to take risks and adventures. A tattoo is applied on the chest.



Cowboy girl

“The world is ruled by gold and audacity.”

Distributed among the worst offenders of the camp routine.




Woman, rose, dagger.

“Revenge for treason.”

The place of the tattoo is the forearm.




A woman with a sword stringing hearts.

“She broke the heart”.


The tattoo is dedicated to the lady of the heart and applied to the chest or thigh.

It is also found in women.

The number of hearts indicates the number of conquered men.



Woman in a horseshoe entwined with barbed wire.

“The prison is obliged to the woman.”




Hand in shackles, clutching a knife.

“Hand – to the thief, but to the prosecutor”.

“I will correct the shooting.”

Symbolizes cruelty, violence.

Patching is found in denied tillage.



A cross in flames with the inscription “Believe in God, not in communism.”

Political tattoo.

As a rule,

it was inflicted by political prisoners.




“That’s what’s left of us.”

The tattoo owner spent many years in prisons and camps (the number of spines on the wire may indicate corrective labor experience).

The secondary meaning of the tattoo – “For all the cop will take revenge.”

Occurs on the chest and back.



Zack crying behind bars.

“Damn him from century to century, who in prison decided to fix a man.”

Apply to chest or back. Like the previous tattoo, points to the camp old-timers.



“Well, wolf, wait!”

Caricature of a police officer.

Often the wolf is depicted in a uniform cap, jacket and with a sword belt.

Apply to the thigh and lower back.



Dancing skeletons Symbolizes risk, fearlessness, contempt for death.

The tattoo first appeared in Mexico and was “imported” into the Soviet Union in the 60s.

Place tattoos – shoulder or chest.




“Deprived of civil rights”.

Such tattoos were applied by political prisoners and dissidents.





“Eternal tramp” or “Eternal wanderer”.

Indicates guest performer.

White sails mean a thief, black – gothic.

Sometimes the number of masts indicates the number of convictions.

Drawn on the chest and thigh.



Fighting bulls. “Who is stronger is right”. Symbolizes aggression, the struggle for power.

Apply camp authorities. The drawing may be accompanied by text. The place of the tattoo is the chest.



Tiger head “Cruelty and Rage.”

The bearers of the tattoo are the bulls and the fighters (those who are fixing physical violence on the orders of the kingpin).

Occurs on the chest and shoulder.



The Latin letter “O”, a tiger holding a skull, a crown, a peak suit in its paw.

Symbolizes violence.

Tattoo is typical for Gopnik.





It is applied by bulls and fighters.

Most often – on the chest.

With the sword can drain blood, which indicates a fighter with “experience”.



A pirate with a knife in his teeth. On the knife is the inscription “IRA” (“I’m going to cut activists”).

Tattoo is found in denied. Camp asset – Internal Order Service (“SVP”).

This denial service is called “Bitch went out for a walk” and “Bitch went out half” (early release).




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