May 04, 2021

The Tsar with the Dragon Tattoo


The Tsar with the Dragon Tattoo
Look at that sexy royal arm. Wikimedia Commons user Ras67

About three and a half years before taking the throne, a young and reckless Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov (Nicholas II) got a dragon tattoo on his right arm from wrist to elbow, photos of which have recently resurfaced online. Historians suspect he got a dragon because he was born in the year of the dragon (1868).

He may also have gotten a dragon to follow in the footsteps of his cousin, Prince George of England and future king of England, who got a dragon tattoo in Japan ten years earlier.

Nicholas traveled the world in the armored cruiser Pamyat Azov in the spring of 1891, hoping to gain an understanding of the world's cultures for future use as tsar. Apart from visiting Greece, it was a voyage to the more "exotic" – for him – lands of Asia. He traveled with his other cousin, Prince George of Greece, Count of Corfu, whom he had probably voyaged to Greece to pick up. Both prince and tsarevich got inked together.

Nicholas wrote in his diary that the tattoo took seven hours, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. He claimed that his arm did not hurt at all.

One photograph from the Yale University Library collection shows Nicholas playing tennis with only his right sleeve rolled up to the elbow, seemingly to show off his tattoo. He did not mind displaying it among close family and friends.

It is ironic that Nicholas had a piece of Japan in his body since only ten years after he took the throne, he would end up in – and losing – a major war with Japan, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.

Two weeks after getting his tattoo, in the Japanese city of Otsu, Nicholas was attacked in a rickshaw by a saber-wielding policeman. The policeman hit the future tsar twice, once in the head. Prince George of Greece jumped to hit the attacker. The trip was cut short and Nicholas headed home after the shock. Perhaps it was an omen of things to come for Nicholas in Japan.

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