The historic designs of swallow tattoos goes back hundreds of years and begins with the plight of sailors. When a crew was sailing a long distance on the ocean, typically 5,000 nautical miles or across the equator, the travels were often full of hardship, sickness, starvation, and quite commonly, death. One sign that their travels were nearing an end was the appearance of swallows. Because these birds never traveled far out to sea, their sighting meant that land was near and the long voyage was coming to an end. This fact led many sailors to start adopting swallow tattoo designs as a symbol of hope and a successful finish to a long journey. As a followup to this story, having a tattoo depicting 2 swallows indicated going on a very long journey (10,000 nautical miles or more) and a swallow tattoo with a dagger through its heart symbolized a memorial for a friend lost at sea.
A different anecdote describes swallow tattoos as a symbol of a mutiny that occurred on a ship called 'The Swallow'. Each of the 7 sailors described in this story had a swallow bird design on their chest to show their support for the mutiny.
As time passed, swallow tattoos have come to symbolize different meanings to different people. Some see the swallow art as a symbol of success or triumph. Others decide to get swallow bird tattoos to signify the return home after a long departure, such as a soldier coming back from war. Another popular meaning of swallow tattoos is that of freedom, as some people released from prison have chosen it as a sign of their entrance back into society. Yet another interpretation is for an everlasting love and loyalty, related to the fact that swallows mate for life.