19 February 2022

Did the Vikings Actually Torture Victims With the Brutal ‘Blood Eagle’?

 This interesting article was published in Smithsonian Magazine, December 2021. The author(s) delve into everything known about the Blood Eagle, an imaginative method of torture and execution used by the Norse Vikings.

If the topic is of interest draw your own conclusions. (Ed.)

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New research reveals the feasibility of the infamous execution method

In each of the extant nine accounts, the victim is captured in battle and has an eagle of some sort carved into their back. Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0

Did the Vikings Actually Torture Victims With the Brutal ‘Blood Eagle’?

In popular lore, few images are as synonymous with Viking brutality as the “blood eagle,” a practice that allegedly found torturers separating the victim’s ribs from their spine, pulling their bones and skin outward to form a set of “wings,” and removing their lungs from their chest cavity. The execution method shows up twice in the popular History Channel drama series “Vikings” as a ritual reserved for the protagonists’ worst enemies, Jarl Borg and King Ælla, a fictionalized counterpart to the actual Northumbrian ruler. In the video game “Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla,” Ivarr the Boneless, a character based on the Viking chieftain who invaded the British Isles in the ninth century C.E., performs the blood eagle on his nemesis, King Rhodri.

These representations take their cue from medieval sources written in both Old Norse and Latin. In each of the extant nine accounts, the victim is captured in battle and has an eagle of some sort carved into their back. Some references to the torture are terse. Others are more graphic, aligning with the extreme versions depicted in contemporary popular culture. Either way, the ritual’s appearance in these texts is intended to send a message tied to honor and revenge.

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