Vikings fans were introduced to the Blood Eagle in season two, episode seven of Vikings. In the episode, Ragnar (played by Travis Fimmel) performs the Blood Eagle on his enemy Jarl Borg (Thorbjørn Harr), however, whether this occurred, in reality, remains unknown. The Blood Eagle has been depicted several times in show but what is it and did the Vikings really carry out the brutal execution method?
What is the Blood Eagle? Did the Vikings really carry out the Blood Eagle?
The Blood Eagle is a form of punishment and execution, thought to be used by the Vikings.
Carrying out the Blood Eagle was seen as a human sacrifice to the Norse God Odin.
The graphic ritual execution method sees the victim’s back sliced open, so their ribs and lungs could be pulled out, whilst still alive.
Their lungs were then arranged to resemble the wings of an eagle sticking out of their back.
The Vikings are believed to have actually have used this method of execution, as it is detailed in late Skaldic poetry and Norse literature.
However, today historians continue to question whether this type of execution happened, the ritual was a myth or simply a mistranslation of the Viking texts.
In Norse literature, there are two references to the Blood Eagle.
Both accounts are very similar in detail and both of their victims were noblemen, executed in retaliation for the murder of their father.
One of the earliest accounts of the use of the blood eagle is thought to have occurred in 867.
In the Tale of Ragnar’s Sons, which the TV series Viking is loosely based on, King Aelle (played by Ivan Kaye) of Northumbria was named as a victim of the blood eagle.
The saga details how Ivar the Boneless (Alex Høgh Andersen) captured King Aelle at York.
Ivar executed King Aelle who had killed Ivar’s father Ragnar Lothbrok.
In the saga, Aelle’s execution is described as: “They caused the bloody eagle to be carved on the back of Ælla, and they cut away all of the ribs from the spine, and then they ripped out his lungs.”
The execution of Aelle was also described in the poem Knútsdrápa by 11th-century poet Sigvatr Þórðarson,
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, show creator Michael Hirst explained: “I first came across the term ‘blood eagling’ from a description of what the sons of Ragnar did to Aelle.
“So I always knew that I was going to do that to him eventually, even though we then went on to have a blood eagling earlier on in the show.
“It was always going to be the end of Aelle, the worst thing that the Vikings could imagine doing to someone, this showpiece of punishment in the Viking age. Poor Aelle! It completed the circle, too, that it happens where Ragnar died.”
He added: “For most of these things, there’s usually some other possible explanation because the information is so brief and often so confused. You have to make a judgment.
“I will always go for the most dramatic interpretation of any given situation.”
The Orkneyinga saga and Heimskringla details the Blood Eagle execution of Halfdan Haaleg, the son of Harald Fairhair, which was carried out by Torf-Einarr.
Other royals and noblemen who were potential victims of the Blood Eagle were King Edmund of England, King Maelgualai of Munster and Archbishop Aelheah.
Vikings season 6 premieres Wednesday, December 4 on History and Thursday, December 5 on Amazon Prime