Tattoos are more than just body art to the Russians. They are a complicated language that is used in the criminal underworld and in the prison system and can symbolize many things. Some are given to symbolize rank and accomplishments within a criminal organization while others are given in prison and are symbols of rebellion, anarchy, and belief.

When a prisoner enters the Gulag or prison system their tattoos tell their history and where they fit in within the complicated rank system. For those who are initiated and understand the hidden language the entire life accomplishments of an individual may be learned without every asking a question.

In Mafia Wars tattoos are just a collection in the Moscow Expansion but in the real world of the Russian criminal they are a language of their own. Here you will find the meanings of both the tattoos that are used in the game for a collection and a few others of note.

Prison Tattoos Collection

Rose Tattoo

Standard 75x75 collect tattoorose 01
The rose is the initiation tattoo that is given when a person joins the gang and is usually placed on the chest.

Church Tattoo

Standard 75x75 collect tattooChurch 01
This type of tattoo is most often found on the chest or back and may not only be a church. Other structures such as monasteries, castles, cathedrals, and fortresses also share the same meaning. This tattoo is used to show the number of times that the wearer has been imprisoned. The number of towers or spires represents either the number of years that the wearer has been imprisoned or the number of times.

Star Tattoo

Standard 75x75 collect tattooStars 01
Stars can be found usually on the shoulders or knees of a criminal. Stars that appear on the shoulders symbolizes the dignity of the person wearing them and that they live by the code and tradition. Stars on the knees are usually awarded when a member attains the rank of Capitan and symbolize that the owner will never be brought to their knees or kneel to anyone. Each point on the star represents a year in prison.

Spider Tattoo

Standard 75x75 collect tattooSpider 01
This tattoo can have two meanings. A spider within a web can signify drug addiction. The spider can also denote that the wearer is a thief. There is also meaning within meaning, for instance a thief who wears a spider climbing up is still active while those who wear it facing backward or moving down either intends to or has already given up the life of a thief.

Tiger Tattoo

Standard 75x75 collect tattooTiger 01
The tiger signifies aggression toward police and other authorities.

Skull Tattoo

Standard 75x75 collect tattooSkull 01
A criminal wearing a skull alone or incorporated into shoulder epaulets is a known murderer.

Crucifix Tattoo

Standard 75x75 collect tattooCrucifix 01
The crucifix tattoo is most often found on the chest of the wearer and is a symbol that shows all who understand the complex tattoo language of the Russian prison system that the wearer is a thief. The tattoo is highly honored and respected since it symbolizes the “King of Thieves”.

Other Russian Prisoner Tattoos

Barbed Wire

Barbed wire worn across the forehead signifies that the wearer has a life sentence.

Finger Tattoos

Most Russian criminals wear tattoos on their fingers. Usually the name of the wearer is spelled out in Cyrillic characters, but other symbols are also used.


Epaulets are tattoos that cover the shoulder of the wearer and most often symbolize accomplishments outside of the law. Accomplishments may include skulls, fighting in the Russian Revolution, status before incarceration, SS insignia, and many others.

Birds Flying on the Horizon

This tattoo means simply “I was born free and should be free.”

Russian tattoos serve the purpose of allowing all to know the history and attitudes of the wearer. They are painfully applied using ink concocted of urine, shampoo, and soot. Soot is often obtained by burning a boot heel. Infections are very common and death is not unheard of.

External Links

Documentary on Russian Prison Tattoos

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