Types of Old English Tattoos

Written by ben jones
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Types of Old English Tattoos
This is an example of Old English, or Gothic, lettering. (gothic image by martini from Fotolia.com)

The term Old English refers to a number of different things mostly circulating around the artwork, language and customs of the Anglo-Saxon people prominent in England and southeastern Scotland in the fifth to 12th centuries. This time period is characterised by religious imagery, simple architecture and design, and ornate decoration of jewellery and weapons. Old English also refers to a style of lettering popular in this period, though there are other references as well.


The style of lettering referred to by the phrase Old English is more formally called Blackletter or Gothic script. It features a typical English alphabet but the actual style of lettering is characterised by a blocky, variable weight and sharp angles and points. Many tattoo artists love the style for its allusions to the medieval time period. Such style of lettering is often used to imprint names, especially of gangs and other associations.


Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, artwork is typically simplistic and lacking in formal elements of modern representational art, such as perspective and reference points. Tattoo artists may use this style of artwork to depict people and animals as it carries an implication of potential disaster and edginess often associated with the black plague and other medieval events.

Weaponry and Jewelry

The Old English time period is characterised by a rapid spread of Christianity through northern Europe, especially areas populated by the Anglo-Saxon people. This time period also featured the Christian crusades through the middle east. Christian imagery was frequently employed in the design of weapons, such as swords and shields, as well as in jewellery. Such designs also feature interlocking elements and representations of animals. Tattoo artists frequently make reference to this style in making pictures of swords, crucifixes and other designs.

Old English Language

The period of time referred to as Old English was actually a long period during which the English language developed significantly. But standards were lax and few actual spellings were generally agreed-upon. Various words have come into popular usage from this time period and are often used, usually satirically, by tattoo artists. These words include "thee" to mean "you," 'thy" to mean "your," and "olde" instead of "old."

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