The swallow symbolizes different things to different cultures, and is popular in tattoo art. For many, the swallow symbolizes sailing experience, working class pride and hope for a new beginning.
For sailors, swallow tattoos have specific meanings. Typically, a sailor who has traveled for more than 5,000 nautical miles will get a swallow tattoo to demonstrate that he is well-experienced. Swallow tattoos are also considered lucky for seafarers, as they believe that if they drown, the swallow will carry their soul away safely. The birds were also associated with working-class pride in England, and many fighters tattooed swallows on their knuckles or fists to symbolize their strength and swiftness.
In ancient Greece, the swallow was associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of Love, and was believed to bring good luck and happiness. The ancient Romans believed that the swallow was a totem bird for mothers in sorrow, and that it embodied the souls of children who had been lost in childbirth. Modern Christians see the swallow as a symbol of sacrifice and rebirth, as well as a symbol for new beginnings.
No matter what cultural belief you choose, swallows are seen as a symbol of hope. The birds are protected in many cultures, and are rarely hunted or harmed.