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Hippy: That's a cool symbol on your head, man. What's it mean? Peace?

Teal'c: It symbolizes slavery. Under false gods.

Hippy: ...right on, man.
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. Current slaves can also be marked by something as simple as a collar.

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. 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.

Examples of Slave Brand include:

Anime Manga

  • In 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.
    • Another set, one of whom is pictured on the image links page, 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 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.
  • In Naruto, the Hyuuga clan brands all of their branch house members with a 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Teito Klein from Zero Seven Ghost.

Comic Books

  • DC Comics: 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.



  • And the funky sigils worn by humans marks them as slaves to vampires in the Blade movies.
  • 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.
  • Magneto: Many mutants have a 'mark' to show they are mutants, but Magneto has a good reason for not wanting one.

 "I have been marked, and I assure you no needle will ever touch my skin again."


  • 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).
    • Brands are occasionally used for other purposes - the Caste of Thieves brands their members with a small mark on the cheek, for example. Qualius the blind Kaissa player has a kef on his forehead, but that was because of torture, not slavery.
  • 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 normally a very grave condemnation of the very foundation of the house elf's self-image..
  • Robin Hobb's Live Ship 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'.
  • Slaves in The Stormlight Archive get a pair of glyphs branded on their forehead, slaves deemed dangerous get a third glyph shash which means "dangerous".
  • 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 Flux & Anchor series, the male-dominated society of New Eden tattoos the rump of all new Fluxgirls, a woman bound into slavery (and perpetual ignorance) by magic.
  • In The Three Musketeers, Milady de Winter bears a brand marking her as a convicted criminal. When Athos discovers this, he is compelled (as a nobleman) to hang her, despite being in love with her.
  • 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 Untwist 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 Mormont gets a special one for being rebellious.

Live Action TV

  • 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.
    • The 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.

      • Note that this 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.
  • Discussed in an episode of Kung Fu: 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 put brands on himself. I'd give anything to be rid of mine.

Caine: And I to keep mine.

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).

Truth In Television

  • 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.
  • 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 refused to be released he was to have his ear specially pierced as a sign for someone who refused to be free.
    • This only applied to male slaves, however. Women didn't get such luxury.
  • African slaves would occasionally be branded before being shipped to America.
  • Among 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.

Video Games

  • Red XIII has something kind of like that in his "XIII" tattoo. He was a research specimen; not much different from slavery, though I doubt Hojo would call it that.
  • 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...
  • In 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 2, 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.

Web Comics

  • Archipelago: Captain Snow uses this to keep unruly slaves or underlings in line. Including the protagonist.
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