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Slave Brand

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Hippy: So, uh.. your thing…that thing, uh…what's it symbolize? Peace?
Teal'c: Slavery. To false gods.
Hippy: Right on?
Stargate SG-1, "1969"

Essentially the idea that when you're a slave, you need something to show it.

This trope centers on the times when a character who either is or was a slave bears some mark that sets them apart from other people. Most frequently this is either a burnt on brand, a tattoo, or even a serial number.

Often, a slave who has been freed will have this mark removed or, if that is not possible, altered. Another option is for them to display this mark openly, as if daring someone to comment.

Compare Mark of Shame, which this brand is to many slaves, and compare Butt Brand and Group-Identifying Feature. See also Slave Collar, which is another way of marking a character enslaved, and Slave Race, where just being born a certain race is enough to mark you as property. For supernatural versions, see Claimed by the Supernatural. More advanced societies might make you a Scannable Man instead.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Teito Klein from 07-Ghost.
  • Slaves in Basara are branded to mark them as slaves forever. Shuri the Red King was branded when he was born by his own father after he heard a prophecy foretelling that Shuri would bring misfortune to him. Shuri understandably hates his father and prophets.
  • Black Butler's Ciel Phantomhive was branded on his back (Or stomach, if you're more the anime type) when he was kidnapped and kept as a slave. He is deeply ashamed of the mark and goes to great lengths to hide it. The brand resembles the Caduceus, a staff with two snakes coiling around it.
  • Played for Laughs in Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid when Tohru asks Kobayashi to brand her in the middle of a stationary store with a rubber stamp that she mistook for a branding iron.
  • In Naruto, the Hyuuga clan brands all of their branch house members with a swastika tattoo upon their forehead which destroys their unique genetic abilities upon death, preventing outsiders from stealing them. While this might sound like a reasonable precaution in a world where bloodline theft is a common tactic between warring villages, the tattoos can also be activated at will by main house members with a secret handsign to cause intense pain or death, making the branch house members slaves in all but name to the main house. All known branch house members are so shamed by their "Caged Bird Seals" that they keep the tattoos covered up.
  • One Piece
    • Slaves of the World Nobility are marked on their backs with the "Hoof of the Soaring Dragon." This brand is meant to impress upon them the fact that they are less than human.
    • A group of slaves who were freed and became pirates altered this mark into one resembling a sun, which everyone on the crew, slave or not, adopted to remove the distinction of freeman and ex-slave. This group of freed slaves took up the name the Sun Pirates. Another set freed at the same time, the Gorgon Sisters, took great pains to hide the mark, claiming it to be the result of a curse that caused anyone to see their backs to petrify.
    • Nami's Arlong Pirates tattoo could also be viewed as this. Nami herself certainly saw it that way. After she had stabbed out the tattoo, she had a new one put in its place resembling a pinwheel with a tangerine growing from it, to honor her adopted parents.
  • The Rising of the Shield Hero:
    • Slaves are branded with a mark that can be used to cause them pain if they try to disobey a direct order from their master. This effect isn't absolute, as Naofumi notices that Raphtalia has been learning what she can and can't get away with. Naofumi's particular abilities allow him to give powerful bonuses in growth to anyone branded as his slave, which gives him reason to keep them branded even if they come to follow him willingly.
    • In some, but not all, adaptations, a slave brand is placed on Princess Malty upon finally being taken to task for past actions. The brand is specifically meant to compel truthful answers to interrogation, but the culprit is such a Compulsive Liar that they continue to lie even while fully aware of and having experienced the effects firsthand.
  • Shitsurakuen - Almost all girls (excluding Sora) have a symbol right above their chest symbolizing their slavery, and all males (and Sora) have a glove symbolizing rulership.

  • A Discussed Trope in this article from We Hunted the Mammoth, which is about an incel Redditor's claim that "Tattoos on women are a 'mark of slavery' showing that their bodies are owned by the tattoo artist". Various commenters write about the history of the trope and apply Fridge Logic; one woman inverts the trope when she says that, after surviving Domestic Abuse and Self-Harm, she got tattooed because "It was my way of reclaiming my body as my own."

    Comic Books 
  • DC Universe: Grace of Batman and the Outsiders was a slave before her powers manifested. Although she has covered much of it with tattoos, her brand remains.
    • Arsenal's daughter, Lian, shares the same brand, having been kidnapped by the same slave trafficker as Grace had.
  • In the French comic Le Scorpion, all of the prostitutes in one town were branded with a 'P' by order of the local bishop.
  • The "M" for Mutant is very close to being a mark of slavery in some of the Marvel Universes.
  • Magneto, being a Holocaust survivor, has a concentration camp number tattooed on his arm.

    Fan Works 
  • John Gage gets left with an trio of knife scars his captor said marked John as belonging to him in the Emergency! fic "Lost and Found''. The man's previous victims bore the same marks.
  • Gamzee in the Homestuck fanfic Hivefled is Covered with Scars, including a Glasgow Grin, and has the words "slut", "pet", "rape toy", "pail", and "worthless" carved on various parts of his body, along with his captor's sigils on his neck (Alternia's traditional method of marking slaves, rendered obsolete with the conquering of other species to use instead) and the magical binding "namoha" on his arm, which will imprison his spirit if he dies.
  • RWBY: Scars: Cinder has one from her years as a Sex Slave in the past.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the Blade Trilogy, vampire familiars (human servants) have the glyph of the vampire who owns them tattooed on their body.
  • In Captain Blood, slaves who attempt to escape and are caught are branded on the face with an FT for "Fugitive Traitor."
  • This is the reason the African mercenary decides to help the main characters in The Island. Their tattooed numbers identify them as clones - their lives to be thrown away for the benefit of their purchasers. He finds this uncomfortably reminiscent of the reason he was branded himself as a child, and decides to switch sides, making this a case of Oppose What You Suffered.
  • The tattoo number of a Nazi concentration camp Magneto from X-Men Film Series carries upon his forearm, which he has brought attention towards to serve as a reminder for human cruelty.
  • Combined with Scannable Man in The Terminator. Kyle Reece shows Sarah Connor the barcode laser-burned into his arm in the robot concentration camp.
  • In the Apocalypse film series movies Revelation and Tribulation, the Mark of the Beast resembles this, while in Judgment it is a coin-sized tattoo.
  • In the backstory of Django Unchained, both Django and Broomhilda have been branded with an "r" on their faces after an attempted escape.
  • Immortan Joe from Mad Max: Fury Road has his symbol branded on the napes of his subjects' necks. Max is also branded with useful descriptive information.
  • Curse of the Crimson Altar: After Peter completes his initiation (however unwillingly) into Lavinia's cult and signs his name in blood in her book, Lavinia has his branded to mark him as now belonging to her.
  • In Reform School Girls, Charlie marks 'her' girls by branding a circle on their butt cheeks. When Charlie brands Lisa, this is one of the last events in the Trauma Conga Line that ultimately drives her to suicide.
  • In Heart of Darkness (1958), all Kurtz's slaves are branded with the letter "K." One character is narrowly prevented from willingly accepting the brand.
  • Berlin Syndrome: Andi does something similar to Clare, writing "Mine" on her shoulder blade in ink, which she views using the mirror after seeing a photo of another woman he did the same thing with. It's what tells her he won't be letting her go.
  • Although it wasn't common practice in the American South during slavery, in Harriet, a freed woman shows an ally where her "mistress" branded her as "punishment" - for being her husband's favorite sexual victim.
  • Antebellum: After her latest attempt to run away fails, the General brands his slave mark on Eden's back to identify her as his property.
  • Troy: Agamemnon hands Briseis over to his men and they gleefully prepare to brand her on the arm before raping her. Fortunately, Achilles shows up and beats them up before they can brand her.

  • In Honor Harrington, genetic slaves are marked with their identification number on their tongues. The ex-slave terrorists of the Audubon Ballroom have made it their trademark to stick their tongues way out to show off these marks to the slavers they kill.
  • Common on Gor. Slaves most commonly get the same stylized "K", called kef, standing for Kajira (or, very rarely, Kajirus for male slaves).
  • The mark of slavery for house elves in Harry Potter is the lack of real clothes; most wear pillowcases and tea-towels and such. Being given clothes is equivalent to being freed...and usually regarded as a fate worse than death. This makes perfect sense when you understand that house elves are normally freed only if their service is grossly inadequate, so being freed is the equivalent of being sacked in utter disgrace. This - along with the fact that Dobby was an exception among house-elves - is the thing Hermione fails to comprehend.
  • Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders trilogy has all slaves marked with tattoos, showing to whom they have belonged. Unruly slaves who've been sold many times are known as 'mapfaces', and the freed slaves take to calling themselves 'Tattooed' rather than 'ex-slaves'.
  • The Stormlight Archive: Slaves get a pair of glyphs branded on their forehead (though more cooperative slaves can get them tattooed instead). These glyphs say when and where the person was made a slave. Slaves deemed dangerous get a third glyph, shash, which means "dangerous". These are rare; most slaves who earn a shash glyph are just executed.
    • Freed slaves have these brands tattooed over with the glyphs for "freedom", along with smaller glyphs stating when they were freed and by whom.
  • Slaves in Carol Berg's Rai Kirah series are branded with a crossed circle, though many of them can be recognized racially as well. Runaways (and occasionally others) may also be branded on the face.
  • In Jack Chalker's Soul Rider series, the male-dominated society of New Eden tattoos the rump of all new Fluxgirls, women bound into slavery (and perpetual ignorance) by magic.
  • The Roman Mysteries: Jonathon gets branded as a slave in The Assassins of Rome. The brand causes problems many times later when he has to prove that he is actually a free Roman citizen.
  • This is (nowadays) The Un-Twist in The Story of O.
  • One of the made-up countries in Thomas More's Utopia cuts part of a slave's ear off as a permanent mark. Which promptly turns into Fridge Logic once the narrator says that slaves can not only earn their freedom, but a certain number are freed every year — so do they get their ear repaired? Or are they always at risk for being re-enslaved as a runaway?
  • In the Dragon Jousters series, only free men shave their heads or cut their hair. Slaves and serfs (an even lower class) wear their hair long as a mark of their unfree status.
  • Black Dagger Brotherhood gives us the vampire Blood Knight Zsadist; who sports pitch black bands around his "drinking points" (wrists and neck), from the time he was enslaved and sexually abused during the eighteen hundreds.
  • Zeturah, a novelization of the Book of Exodus, includes a scene in which Moses' sister opens her shirt to show the scars Egyptian soldiers gave her. She shouts, "Behold, the mark of a slave!"
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, slaves in the east are tattooed on their face to show their specific occupation. Ser Jorah Mormont gets a special one for being rebellious.
  • In Les Misérables, Jean Valjean views his 24601 number and brand as this. Technically it's to show that he's a criminal, rather than a slave, but in Revolutionary France the two statuses amounted to the same thing.
  • In Left Behind, the Mark of the Beast is enforced on all citizens of the Global Community whether they wanted it or not, including criminals. It consists of injecting a biochip into a person's right hand that acts as both a tracking device and a means of making legal transactions, while the person's region code is tattooed on either their right hand or their forehead.
  • All slaves in Roll Over and Die are marked with an actual brand on some part of their body, and protagonist Flum is unfortunate enough to receive it on her cheek. It's also noted that each brand is treated with a certain ink that makes it impossible to wash it off or remove it with magic.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who
    • Companion Turlough had a brand marking him as a political prisoner in exile. [1]
    • The Third Doctor had a tattoo on one arm, identified as a Time Lord marking for a convict. It was actually Jon Pertwee's own tattoo, which he got during his days in the navy, seen on camera in his debut story and made into the convict mark via the Expanded Universe.
  • Discussed in the Kung Fu (1972) episode "The Well": Caine is staying with a black family. The father (who had been in favor of throwing him out because he didn't want trouble with the town) sees Caine's tiger & dragon arm brands and assumes they're slave brands, since he (the father) had been branded when he was a slave. He asks Caine if he's a runaway slave.
    Caine: I am a priest.
    Caleb: If you're a priest then who put those brands on you?
    Caine: I did.
    Caleb: It's a foolish thing for a man to brand himself. I'd give anything to be rid of mine.
    Caine: And I to keep mine.
  • The Jaffa of Stargate SG-1 have a mark either tattooed or branded onto their foreheads. The appearance of the mark is determined by which Goa'uld they serve. Note that the golden brand is a mark of honor: it signifies the Goa'uld in question's First Prime—the Jaffa head of his military forces. (Bra'tac was apparently Apophis' retired First Prime, hence the brand despite not being First Prime at the time). Lower-ranking Jaffa get tattoos done in black ink. The first episode also included some priests with silver-filled brands, but whether this is supposed to be a general trait of the Jaffa priesthood (whom we never really get to see) or just Early Installment Weirdness is never made clear. The gold brand involves cutting open the skin on the forehead and pouring molten gold into the wound.
    Thug: ...that sounds painful.
    Teal'c: [pins thug to wall] Excruciating.
  • Spartacus: Blood and Sand: The gladiators are branded with the mark of the House they belong to. One of them is later forced to slice off his own brand as a mark of loyalty to his new master. Body slaves get a tattoo that points out their status as a body slave and who they serve, and wear a Slave Collar.
  • The Blacklist Reddington goes after a human trafficking ring that brands its slaves. At the end of episode Reddington's male body guard is changing in the locker room and you see the same scar on his shoulder.
  • In Alice (2009), humans who wind up in Wonderland have a light shone somewhere on their bodies that causes a tattoo to form. The Wonderland inhabitants refer to them as "Oysters" and typically round them up to have their emotions harvested. Alice gets hers on her arm and has to cover it up to move freely. It is still there when she makes it back to Earth, one of the things that proves her experience wasn't a dream.
  • One of the nastier human trafficking rings the detectives of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit takes down brands its victims with barcodes on their necks.
  • Handmaids in The Handmaid's Tale are ear-tagged like livestock are.
  • Horrible Histories has a sketch on the Tudor punishment of branding perjurers with a large 'P' in the middle of their forehead. A perjurer applying for a job firstly claims it is a birthmark, and then that he slipped and fell onto a hot branding iron.
  • Underground: Slaves who are caught after escaping get branded with a small "r" on their cheek. Cato even got branded twice after as many attempts. He obscured them through burning his cheek. Rosalee got this brand after she's briefly recaptured.

  • In the apocryphal book of Third Maccabees, King Philopater of Egypt decided to disgrace the Jews by subjecting them to registration as slaves and having the ivy-leaf symbol of Dinoysus branded upon them unless they chose to renounce their religion and thus be regarded as equals among the Alexandrian citizens.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the "Ravnica" story arc in Magic: The Gathering, one of the ten guilds—the Orzhov, the Black/White aligned Corrupt Church, uses its guild signet (a black sun with twelve rays) to denote master (worn as jewelry) or slave (tattooed to a debtor).
  • In Exalted, sacrificing a living human in the name of a deceased human will cause the sacrificed to become a slave-ghost to the person they were sacrificed to. The ghost-body of the slave bears a special mark that will never disappear, even if body-altering ghost-magic is used. Special ghost-apparel that can hide this mark is highly valued in the Underworld.
  • Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000: Those devoted to one of the Chaos gods often have that god's symbol somewhere on their body. Whether or not they consider themselves slaves depends on their level of devotion and/or insanity.

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Red XIII of Final Fantasy VII has something kind of like that in his "XIII" tattoo. He was a research specimen; not much different from slavery, though Hojo probably wouldn't call it that.
    • The l'Cie in Final Fantasy XIII all bear brands indicating which Fal'Cie they serve. It's also a Mark of Shame because if you're an l'Cie to a Pulse Fal'Cie, you become hated by the people of Cocoon.
  • Agent 47, the Player Character of the Hitman series, has a barcode on the back of his head since he's an Artificial Human intended to be the perfect assassin. Oddly enough, this never seems to ruin his disguises...
  • Dragon Age:
    • Casteless dwarves are marked by facial tattoos.
    • Tranquil mages (mages who have had their magical ability forcibly stripped from them) have a sun brand on their forehead, which is apparently a symbol of the Chantry. This is only actually visually present in Dragon Age II, but it is mentioned in the first game. It also resembles a lobotomy scar, which is pretty close to what Tranquilization is supposed to represent.
    • In Dragon Age: Inquisition, Solas claims that the Vallaslin markings the Dalish apply to their faces were originally slave brands that the elven nobility of Arlathan would put on their slaves to honor their gods. A Dalish Inquisitor is understandably horrified.
  • Most races available for Sith Inquisitor players in Star Wars: The Old Republic (except for Sith Purebloods) have the option to display elaborate scarring marking them as former slaves of the Empire.
  • Potemkin from Guilty Gear has barcodes with a serial number tattooed on his shoulders from his time spent as a slave.
  • Slaves in Divinity: Original Sin II have these. It not only shows that they're slaves, but allows their master to control them. One of the origins, Sebille, has her main goal being to remove her slave brand.
  • Salt and Sanctuary: They aren't seen, but slaves are branded on their necks. Which becomes a minor plot point when the Despondent Thief tells the player that she finally found the "nobleman" she was hired to protect but got separated from (or rather, she found his dead body), and discovered to her great shock that he had a slave brand on his neck.
  • BioShock: The Player Character’s tattoos, three chain links across both wrists are never directly mentioned, but they’re implied to be this due to how he was raised in a lab and genetically conditioned to be under mind control.

    Web Comics 
  • Archipelago: Captain Snow uses this to keep unruly slaves or underlings in line. Including the protagonist.
  • Bound Adventures: Princess Irina is captured by pirates in one story, and she recognizes that the captain is an escaped slave, as she has the Boundarian symbol burned on her skin.
  • Leif & Thorn: The back-of-the-neck tattoo seen on Leif and other Embassy servants. Marks the location of a microchip that causes pain if they break the rules.

    Western Animation 
  • The Transformers has the Autobot and Decepticon insignias originally being this; the two races originated as sapient consumer products, with the insignias being product logos forced on them representing whether they were military or models intended for general consumption. After they Turned Against Their Masters, they decided to keep their logos and turn them from marks of shame into badges of pride.

    Real Life 
  • The numbers tattooed on the arms of Nazi concentration camp inmates. Not necessarily used to mark them as slaves but to keep track who each one was. Sometimes it determined their classification (besides Jews, a whole host of others were placed in the camps, such as condemned criminals, political prisoners or homosexuals).
    • The tattoos were also intended to humiliate since tattooing wasn't a common practice back then. It was a particular humiliation for Jewish inmates; tattooing is expressly forbidden by Judaism, and even relatively unobservant Jews would have never even considered a tattoo.
  • In ancient Israelite society, a Hebrew could only be the slave of another Hebrew for six years, and then he was to be released. If the slave had a wife and children while in slavery whom he refused to leave behind he was to have his ear specially pierced as a sign for someone held for life.
    • This only applied to male slaves, however; women didn't get such luxury. That said, Hebrew slaves who were already married were freed along with their wife. If it happened after they were enslaved, however, this led to the situation above (and very well may have been deliberately arranged by some owners to retain their slaves for life).
    • Further, this didn't apply to foreign slaves of both sexes. They could be held for life and inherited as property. Hebrew slaves sold to foreigners, on the other hand, could be redeemed by their family.
  • African slaves would occasionally be branded before being shipped to America. However it was seen as just a bit too cruel a practice in American slave states. If a slave did try to escape, they would usually be fitted with a semi-permanent collar as punishment though.
  • During the Spanish Conquest of the Aztec Empire, enslaving natives was legally forbidden for the Spaniards, but as their own indigenous allies didn't have qualms to make slaves out of war prisoners, they wrote to Spain and got a special permission to do the same to those from tribes that fought against them after swearing loyalty to the king (which made them legally traitors). They marked those slaves with a G for guerra ("war"), so they could be later demonstrated this had been the cause.
  • The Fleur de Lis was branded onto runaway slaves as a form of punishment. And if that wasn't bad enough, they also had their ears cut off.
  • Among some BDSM lifestylers in a total power exchange relationship, branding is a considered mark and ritual of dedication by both slave and master. Strike branding, using a hot iron, is still preferred by most. Tattoos are sometimes used if the master has the skill or a particular design that requires inked lines. A cold branding with liquid nitrogen is becoming more popular, as it requires a less practiced hand to get clean, lasting lines, and the result is less prone to infection.
  • Subverted by Ancient Rome. According to Seneca, at one point it was proposed that slaves be made to wear a common uniform. The proposal was rejected because they feared that slaves being able to easily recognize each other would also make them realize how much they outnumber their masters by.
    • This didn't keep the Romans from tattooing in relatively inconspicuous places for other purposes-for instance, exported slaves would have "tax paid" tattooed on them. Also, legionaries would have a tattoo on their hand for easier identification in case of desertion.
    • They also inverted it with the pileus - a kind of hat given to freed slaves.

Alternative Title(s): Slave Tattoo