"By contrast, the Eastern people of Cyrodiil relish in garish costumes, bizarre tapestries, tattoos, brandings, and elaborate ceremony. Closer to the wellspring of civilization, they are more given to philosophy and the evolution of ancient traditions. The Nibenese find the numinous in everything around them, and their different cults are too numerous to mention (the most famous are the Cult of the Ancestor-Moth, the Cult of Heroes, the Cult of Tiber Septim, and the Cult of Emperor Zero). […] Above them are the merchant-nobility, the temple priests and cult leaders, and the age-old aristocracy of the battlemages. The Emperor watches over them all from the towers of the Imperial City, as dragons circle overhead."
"The traditional Nordic pantheon of Eight Divines was replaced by a baroque veneration of ancestor spirits and god-animals, practices encouraged by the mutable-yet-monotheistic doctrines of the Alessian faith. The doctrines eventually codified nearly every aspect of Eastern culture. Restrictions against certain kinds of meat-eating, coupled with the sentiments of the blossoming animal cults, soon made agriculture and husbandry nearly impossible. Thus, many of the Eastern Cyrodiils were forced to become merchants, which, over time, allowed the Nibenay Valley to become the wealthiest city-state in the region." — First Pocket Guide to the Empire, Cyrodiil
Nibenese tattooing and branding is complex and esoteric. Rooted in the ancestor worship and veneration of god-animals (and some Imperials scholars say even before that, before the Nords and before the Ayleids), it has waxed and waned in popularity in the Empire, whose opinion ranges from ‘primitive’ (Colovians, mostly, and ignorant foreigners like the Thalmor) to ‘sacred’.
Unlike Western Cyrodiil, where tattooing was seen akin to more permanent warpaint, Eastern Cyrodiil held to its tradition of sacred tattooing and branding with a dragon-clawed grip. To ink and etch one’s body with the secret knowledge of the gods, both new and old, was seen as a hard but noble road, a life-time commitment to the veneration of one’s chosen deities. It is for this reason that the majority of Nibenese tattooing and branding artists are priests, and, as everything religious in the Niben Bay, precepts and rituals must be performed before being tattooed and branded.
Nibenese cults guard their sacred motifs, seals and prayers zealously. A person cannot simply walk into a temple and demand to be tattooed and/or branded, as it is considered a major offense for it is a callous treatment of what is seen as a contract with the gods. Only the most devout are willing to subject themselves to the pain of hours, days and months of tattooing and/or branding. Many cults demand that those willing to undergo the rituals do so in complete silence, for it is a time for meditation.
Due to their sanctity not much is known about the properties of such tattoos and brandings, though those who are ‘magic-sensitive’ claim to detect faint traces of magicka emanating from them. As a matter of fact, many tattoos and brands have much in common with magickal seals such as runes, and some even use languages applied in magickal studies.
Those who are tattooed and branded in the Nibenese tradition are expected not to flaunt them, for it is a private contract between oneself and the gods. Common opinion in Cyrodiil is that Colovians tattoo themselves to intimidate (like their Nordic cousins), while the Nibenese tattoo (and brand) themselves to venerate their gods through soul, mind and body.
Nibenese tattooing and branding is currently underground, as many of the motifs and designs venerate deities such as Tiber Septim the Mortal, Talos the God and Akatosh, both as Himself and as his Avatar, Martin Septim.