I have a tattoo on my right shoulder. It’s an eagle clutching arrows in its talons, surrounded by laurels, a globe, and the letters DPQC below it. You may be familiar with this design from the movie Gladiator, when Russell Crowe’s character scraps it off with a rock so that no one will recognize him as a Roman Soldier. You may also know this design because you took a high school latin class. It was commonly used on ancient Roman currency, and believed to be tattooed to Roman soldiers as an identification of their status and loyalty to the Empire.
It was common practice in Rome for lower classes of people to be tattooed as a lifelong symbol of their place in society. The lower classes, such as slaves and criminals, were marked to remind them, as well as the rest of society, of who and what they were. It was a stigma; as in the same word we derive from “to stigmatize” or “to mark as different”. It literally meant “to stick”, with an stick; a burning brand, or an inked needle. It’s the same word that we use to get Christ’s stigmata: the holes in his hands, feet, and side that physically set him apart as a human being. It was a mark of disgraced distinction reserved for the outsiders, not the upper class. Eventually, it was re-purposed to the branding of solider in the service of the Roman military, which is where the iconic SPQR tattoo comes in.
I marked myself as a reminder of who I am. I am not a upper class citizen. I am an outsider, and my calling in Christ is to those who are stigmatized as well. I received this tattoo through pain. Getting a tattoo hurts; it requires the shedding of blood. I can’t ignore it or forget it; I wake up in the morning and it reminds me of decisions I’ve made, and beliefs I hold; It’s always going to be there. Like a marriage, sure, I can get it removed, and its easier than ever to do that, but it’s a physical sign of my belief, imprinted on my body through sacrifice.
I had always told myself it was the only tattoo I would ever get. It was cool, and I liked it because of its pro-military values. But when I finally worked up the courage to get it, my entire reasoning changed. It became a parody.
The Aquila, or Eagle, was a symbol of patriotic pride, one that was fought for because of its majesty and strength. For me it is closer to the American symbol of Freedom, and more importantly, a freedom from the pursuit of majesty and strength. A paradoxical icon as it were.
The Laurel wreath is actually a Greek symbol of victory. It’s a reminder for me to NOT seek to win, but find victory in losing; to lose so that others might gain. It’s a symbol that the victory of Christ was not in the Athletic or Martial victory, but in his death and loss, with a crown of thorns on his head.
The Arrow in the talons was a usually a symbol of military might: I have the power in my hands. An arrow is the symbol of change in one way or another, regardless of culture, and to possess the power of change is to be desired indeed. However, as a Christian I do indeed seek to change lives, but at the same time I desire that I be the one pierced by the arrow. Instead of grasping for the power to change, I am grasping at that which will change me.
The Globe represented the vast, all reaching empire of Rome. To me, it represents God’s kingdom of heaven, right there on the earth; it is the earth, and all the people in it. My true citizenship is not to a singular government or strip of land, but to the body of Christ, which spans continents, borders, and cultures.
Finally, there is the letters DPQC. Most of the time you will see this as SPQR, which stands for Senatús Populusque Rómánus, or “The Senate and the People of Rome”. It was a phrase that showed the loyalty to both the Individual and the Establishment. DPQC stands for Deus Populusque Caelorum, which mean “God and the People of Heaven”. It’s a reminder of where loyalties lie.