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The iconic picture of William Wallace with face painted for battle in the movie Braveheart (1995):

enter image description here

Does this design have any special meaning? There are others with face paint, and some resemble symbols:

enter image description here

I've always wondered whether these had special meaning, but most specifically the one on Wallace's face.

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    Having just looked at 18 ancient language alphabets and sets of runic symbols, I am unable to find anything resembling the two designs in the photos you include in your question - I paid particular heed to the Pictish runes and alphabet, even looking at their art (in the stone slabs). Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 18:29
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    @GhotiandChips - not taking anything away from the 2 answers already here, this answer is probably more on-point to what I asked. Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 18:47
  • That's Jeor Mormont James Cosmo or I'm a monkey's uncle. (DNA tests required for simian proof ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 20:25
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    @Tetsujin Actors sometimes play more than one role during their lifetime. Crazy, right? It's just pure insanity. Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 5:32
  • Next you'll be trying to tell me Spock was in Mission Impossible... I'll not have it, I tell ya ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 7:02

3 Answers 3

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Short answer: No.

One of the most historically inaccurate movies of all time.
These were simply decorative for the movie. Most of the imagery can be taken with huge grains of salt.

Check out this fantastic breakdown by the History Buffs youtube guy:

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    Only the color blue was relevant. The Picts had this tradition but it was stopped long before the time of Wallace.
    – BlueGI
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 15:38
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    @BlueGI That may well be worth including in your answer (that it's inspired by the blue "tattoos" found on the Pictish) - even if it is historically inaccurate for many reasons, it would at least serve as an answer for what the reason was for using this (sadly) iconic blue face paint. Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 16:43
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    The question wasn’t whether or not the paint was historically accurate; it was whether or not there was any meaning behind the particular design painted on Gibson’s face. The design may well have been chosen for symbolic reasons unrelated to history; the director, costume designer, or Gibson himself might have chosen it for a particular reason. Whether or not they did (and, if they did, what that reason was) is in my mind necessary to fully answer this question. Even if they wrongly believed they were accurately depicting the historical practice of woad, they picked that design—why?
    – KRyan
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 18:13
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    "One of the most historically inaccurate movies of all time." So you're telling me that the battle cry of an army fighting for rule by a local feudal Earl rather than a Norman feudal king in a succession dispute wasn't "Freedom!" ? Mind, blown.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 18:18
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    @JohnnyBones Actually it was Burwell who chose a different design, not Gibson. Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 18:19
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Here is also a list of Errors in Braveheart, but the painted blue faces are not entirely inaccurate, it's just it was not used for battle and out of practice by the time of Wallace, as the idea of it may stem Pict Tradition.

Error #4: The Scots didn’t paint their faces for battle

At least they no longer did by the time of Wallace. What Gibson was obviously alluding to is the Scottish Picts’ tradition of painting their faces blue to scare off those pansies, the Romans, from their lands. Of course, Emperor Adrian would have nothing of it and built a wall to keep those evil buggers from sacking the rest of Britain while the sandal-folk still ruled the scene.

The blue face-paint is so iconic, though, you couldn’t imagine BraveHeart without it. These days of course the tradition is to paint the flag of Scotland (a white X across with blue sides) for sporting events.

https://thehande.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/braveheart-the-10-historical-inaccuracies-you-need-to-know-before-watching-the-movie/

Q: Why do they wear blue or blue and white makeup?

If you didn’t know, these are the Scottish colors. You can see them on Scotland’s flag.

Q: What is that paint?

It’s called woad. It’s a plant and the blue dye is produced from the leaves.

Q: Did Braveheart really wear that paint into battle?

Probably not. Most historians think the paint was an earlier phenomenon (Wikipedia has a lengthy section on historical inaccuracies in the film). We also like the nit-picking produced on this blog’s Braveheart tag.

https://triviahappy.com/articles/5-questions-about-scottish-face-makeup-as-seen-in-braveheart

History of Picts https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picts

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    It was the Emperor Hadrian who built the wall en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadrian%27s_Wall
    – Neil
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 17:54
  • The question wasn’t whether or not the paint was historically accurate; it was whether or not there was any meaning behind the particular design painted on Gibson’s face. The design may well have been chosen for symbolic reasons unrelated to history; the director, costume designer, or Gibson himself might have chosen it for a particular reason. Whether or not they did (and, if they did, what that reason was) is in my mind necessary to fully answer this question. Even if they wrongly believed they were accurately depicting the historical practice of woad, they picked that design—why?
    – KRyan
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 18:13
  • But by replaying with an answer that relates to how it was or wasn't accurate, I also included links (Wikipedia Pict) and/or other people's answers on how it was significant, as the paint may come from Pict culture, @KRyan Pict Culture being apart of Celtic culture, and the color blue itself is a color of Scotland, but I could not find direct significance on the choice of the specific design in the film--this information was as close as I could get, as Pict culture is still a culture being studied and there are different schools of thought relating to certain things. Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 19:40
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    Note: Adrian is another form of the name Hadrian - if you go to the Wikipedia page of the name Adrian you see information about Hadrian and a bust of Hadrian pictured, and that the name originates from the region formerly known as Adria or Hadria.
    – T. Rutter
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 1:42
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To the gentleman who had trouble finding Celtic symbology among the runes, perhaps that is because runes are Nordic, not Celtic. The Celts had the Ogham Alphabet that was likely used for divination as well as an alphabet and a nemonic device for students, but the woad paint was more likely to reflect the natural world's shapes and images. Braveheart is indeed an inaccurate depiction of the Celts. The two pictures above show woad painted on in straight lines dividing a face in two, and in the form of a cross. The non-Christianized, non-Romanized Celts in any age were not a linear people, and even when the church later forced their cross imagery on them, they added a circle to the cross to represent the old culture. Their symbology came from nature: circles, spirals, trees, the salmon. Not straight lines, and not binary divisions of the face. This is one of thousands of examples of our current Romanized Christian cosmology trying to depict an ancient, animist, egalitarian, ecocentric, non-binary culture and failing miserably.

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