Guillotine tattoo meaning and symbolism

Guillotine is a tool used by French Revolutionaries during the time of the 18th century. Namely, it was designed to behead people faster and easier. This way, death toll wasn’t as high since prisoners were executed one after another without long breaks. Furthermore, executions would take less space because dead bodies were removed from the platform immediately after beheading.

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After the tool was used for a while, it became a part of French history and folklore. It was also depicted in numerous works of art, including paintings and sculptures by various artists. In addition to that, Guillotine is often shown in video games, movies and TV series about the period of French Revolution.

The device used for executing people was invented by a physician Antoine Louis, but it’s Joseph-Ignace Guillotin who is associated with the tool.

Guillotine tattoo designs meanings and symbolism


Death is the most common meaning of Guillotine tattoos. The tool’s main purpose was beinghead people, but it was also associated with death by people. This way, tattoos symbolize ending of something important or vital for one’s life (the head is often seen as source of will and intellect).

French Revolution

French Revolution was the event during which Guillotine was being used. Since it has a direct connection to the tool, this tattoo idea can be associated with French Revolution.

People executed during French Revolution

Since Guillotine was primarily used for beheading people, depicting them in tattoos is a great idea. During the revolution, thousands of people were executed and tattoo can be a memorial for specific ones. It could also depict someone who was close to the person getting Guillotine tattoo.


In the past, France was officially using Guillotine for executing people. It means that this tattoo idea can be a memorial of a specific event or commemorate current state of affairs in France.

More specifically, it can be a tribute to people executed during French Revolution. Sometimes tattoo is just a reminder about the country’s sad past.

Personal significance

One of the most popular reasons why people get Guillotine tattoo is because it’s their personal symbol or reminder that has deep meaning for them. This way, the tool can be associated with death, but also French Revolution and its victims, France and looking at your personal past events in a new light.

People might also get this tattoo representing their close ones that disappeared or died.

Strength and resilience

Since Guillotine was primarily used for executions, it’s commonly believed that tattoos are symbols of someone’s strength and resilience. This idea is also connected with French Revolution, as people were often beheaded if they didn’t obey to authorities’ demands.

Skull and crossbones

As some sort of a counterpart to Guillotine, tattoos featuring skull and crossbones are often associated with death as well. Those symbols were used as an indication of danger or something dangerous. In addition to that, such tattoos suggest looking at everyday things from a different perspective (skulls often represent life and death, while crossbones – danger).

Dignity and respect

People who were beheaded during French Revolution were often forced into humiliation. That’s why Guillotine tattoos as a symbol of dignity and respect are also possible. In addition to that, they can be a memorial for people executed during the revolution or symbols of bravery and courage.

Legibility and simplicity

Since Guillotine tattoos are often small, they’re associated with legibility and simplicity. Those qualities can be associated with French Revolution in general or some other event in particular. People usually get such tattoo in order to pay tribute to someone who was close to them and these two characteristics make the design suitable for that.

Guillotine Tattoo ideas

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Guillotine tattoos can be just about any part of this instrument, usually its blade or entire head. It may also feature one or two human heads.

In general, the tattoo idea should contain a guillotine and a head or heads that can either be alive or dead. There is also a huge number of variations from those two themes, so those will be described below.

Since the tool’s purpose was beheading, showing it in tattoos isn’t a big surprise. In most cases, heads are going to be one of the main features depicted.

However, there is a possibility that tattoo will feature a couple of Guillotines and no human heads at all. Sometimes the head could belong to a specific person, like a king.

Guillotine tattoo design with text and symbols

The most common way of showing “Guillotine” in tattoos is using letters that form this word. There is an option to add some other words or symbols near it. Those could be stars (representing either the number of executed people or specific executions) or anvils (representing either France or French Revolution). Depending on the tattoo design, “Guillotine” text may be written in capital letters or small letters. In addition to that, it could also be inside some sort of a frame.

People as part of Guillotine tattoo designs

As mentioned above, one of the most popular tattoo ideas is to show live or dead heads in Guillotine tattoos. They could be king’s head, nobleman’s head or just some random person who was executed during French Revolution.

Other symbols and images as part of Guillotine tattoo designs

In addition to “Guillotine” text, there are a lot of other possibilities for showing this term in tattoos. Those could be a human head, a knife, crowns and other objects associated with France or French Revolution.

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