Weird History Details About The Blood Eagle, One Of History's Most Nightmarish Torture Methods  

Melissa Sartore
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The Blood Eagle is one of the most graphic, cruel, and slow torture methods ever described, and it's associated with the Vikings. According to 12th- and 13th-century authors, the Blood Eagle had a long tradition in Scandinavia and was used against the most heinous enemies. There's no exact date attached to its origins, nor is there a specific legal prohibition as to its use, but popular culture depictions keep it alive and well.

The debate among historians about whether or not the Blood Eagle actually occurred continues – was it a real punishment?  Was its inclusion in Viking sagas part of Christian propaganda meant to depict the Scandinavian pagans as heathens? Has the lore of the Blood Eagle surpassed the historical accuracy of its existence?  Here are some details about it to help you answer those questions for yourself!

It Involved The Back Being Carved And The Ribs And Lungs Being Pulled Out Through It


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The conventional interpretation of the Viking Blood Eagle is that it was done by carving an eagle onto the back of one's enemy, prying his back open by detaching his ribs from his backbone, and pulling his lungs through the opening. The lungs were then spread over the ribs, giving the impression of wings. This made the body look like a spread eagle, albeit a mutilated one. 

According to some of the translations of Viking saga, a Blood Eagle could be performed by simply carving an eagle with outstretched wings on the naked body of one's enemy. To add cruelty, it could also be done by cutting open an enemy's chest and pulling out his lungs, making him appear winged from the front. 

When The Back Was Open And The Ribs Were Pulled Out, They Literally Rubbed Salt In The Wound


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According to Saxo Grammaticus's Gesta Danorum, once the back was cut open, ribs broken, and lungs ripped out, the flesh was then rubbed with salt.

"For the slayer by a cruel death of their captive father, Ragnar's sons act the blood-eagle on Ella, and salt his flesh."  

Saxo, writing in the late 12th and early 13th century, recorded oral traditions and history as well as events from his own time.  The use of salt was picked up by later writers who described it as a "saline stimulant" intended to inflict additional pain and suffering, applied after the ribs were spread but before the lungs were spread. 

It Was Meant As An Offering To Odin, The God Of War


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The Norse war god Odin was the recipient of Blood Eagle sacrifices before battles and after. Hdlfddn's death in The Orkneyinga Saga was as much an act of revenge as an offering to Odin. However, later writers omitted reference to Odin.

Some scholars believe that the Blood Eagle was connected to earlier human sacrifices made to Odin, although it remains controversial as to whether or not those ever took place. 

To Be Subjected To The Blood Eagle, You Had To Do Something That Made You Honor-less


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In the numerous sagas that mention the Blood Eagle practice, revenge and pure disdain were present as precursors to its usage. In Frithiof's Saga, Bjorn swears to use the Blood Eagle on the man that killed his comrade:

"Fall'st Thou, War Brother! I'll 'venge Thee well;
Blood-Eagle lines on Thy foe shall be flowing."

In The Orkneyinga Saga, Hdlfddn (Halfdan) underwent the Blood Eagle after having been defeated in battle:

"Next morning they found Hdlfddn Hdlegg on Kinar's Hill. The Earl made a blood eagle be cut on his back with the sword, and had his ribs severed from the back-bone, and his lungs pulled out."

The Saga goes on to explain that when Hdlfddn underwent the Blood Eagle at the hands of the Earl Einar, it was because Hdlfddn had killed the Earl's father.