Viking Blood Eagle: The Most Brutal Torture Method

For many decades, what the Vikings are mainly famous for is their brutality. In many texts, the Viking appeared to be the violent warriors who would not hesitate a second to behead their enemies. But according to some materials, the Vikings also offered a kind of indirect punishment to the enemies. The Viking torture method would not deprive the enemies of their life immediately. Rather, they wanted their enemies to feel the pain until the point they no longer physically feel it and fell dead. Among the Viking torture method, the Viking Blood Eagle is the most famous and controversial as well.

Image of Viking Blood Eagle in Vikings Ragnar Lothbrok
A scene from “Vikings” TV Series when Ragnar carried out the Blood Eagle

What was the Viking Blood Eagle?

As the name indicates, the Viking Blood Eagle was to make something similar to the eagle on the body of the victim. The Vikings would carry out the torture by cutting a straight line on the back of the victim. They would make the flesh and bones under the back open. Once the ribs revealed themselves from the flesh, the Vikings would detach the ribs from the spine. The lungs of the victims then were also pulled. They stretched the lungs in the ribs to make the wings of the eagle. The victims of the Viking Blood Eagle torture were the enemies or the betrayals the Vikings captured.

Image of Viking Blood Eagle the most horrible Viking torture
The ribs would be detached from the spin and the lungs would be pulled out

Some depictions add more cruelty to the ritual by telling the ritual being carried out in the chest of the victim.

The Viking Blood Eagle was an offering to Odin the Allfather

The Viking Blood Eagle was believed to be an offering to Odin the Allfather. Some scholars explained that this was because the Vikings wanted to offer Odin servants at the gate of Valhalla. Because in Norse mythology, Odin had dogs and an eagle to guard the gate of Valhalla. So chances were that the Vikings wanted to offer Odin with the servants at his door. This was also a sight of mercy in the community of the Vikings.

Image of the Viking blood eagle and archaeological Viking stone
Viking blood eagle in the ancient archaeological Viking picture stone

Historical or Legendary?

Nonetheless, the Viking blood eagle remains a mystery. Debates are still around and people are doubting whether this brutal torture is historical or not. The rituals appeared the most in the textual materials.

Image of Viking blood eagle
The Viking Blood Eagle appeared in the Viking tales about revenge for father’s death

In the tales of Ragnar’s sons, the famous Viking leader Ivar the Boneless seized Ella the King of Northumbria who had killed Ragnar Lothbrok Ivar’s father. The story told that Ivar carried out the Blood Eagle on Ella and rubbed the salt into the wound of the king.

And Ella’s back,
at had the one who dwelt
Ívarr, with eagle,
York, cut.

Skaldic poem by Sigvatr Thordarson

The Blood Eagle also appeared in the writing of Snorri Sturluson “Heimskringla” which was the famous tales of the Viking kings. The tale was about the execution of Torf-Einarr who killed the father of Halfdan Long-leg.

Afterwards, Earl Einarr went up to Halfdan and cut the “blood eagle” on his back, in this fashion that he thrust his sword into his chest by the backbone and severed all the ribs down to the loins, and then pulled out the lungs; and that was Halfdan’s death

“Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway”

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