The dagger through a rose is not a tattoo symbol that you’ll find in the Tattoo Encyclopedia. That’s because it’s really two symbols, each with its own unique meaning. More than many other types of weapons, the dagger has acquired some of its own specific symbolism.
Easier to conceal and draw, the dagger became favored over the sword as a constant companion and it especially became the favorite of assassins. Indeed, the dagger is one of the most threatening of weapons for the sole reason that, in order to use it effectively, the attacker must be fairly close to the victim — close physically but perhaps also close socially or even emotionally. Hence it carries a unique sense of betrayal and treachery that is not inherent in other weapon symbols. Like most weapons, the dagger is part and parcel of violent aggression. However, daggers in some cultures are of very specific shapes and carry special ritual meaning such as the three-sided Tibetan phurba which symbolizes the submission of demons.
In many ways, the rose is a virtual opposite to the dagger, representative of ideal beauty and also love. Like the lotus in Asia, the rose is the preeminent floral symbol of the west. With their deep red, they have historically been associated with blood and hence Christ in Christian iconography. They have been used in heraldry, freemasonry, and alchemy and in festivals of ancient Rome and Greece. In modern iconography, they are part of love symbolism and a synonym for what is beautiful.
In tattoo art, they are likely the most frequently appearing flower, sometimes complete with stem and thorns. As in other symbolism, their meanings in tattoos vary widely with each use, though most uses are based on the beauty and romantic symbolism for which they are so well known.
The dagger through the rose is sometimes a harsh reality, other times the union of opposites, and also simply an example of classic Americana tattooing done in the Old School style that capitalizes on the combination of two very different and enduringly popular symbols.