10 Ice-Cold Acts Of Vengeance From The Middle Ages

List Rules
Vote up the most savage acts of vengeance from the medieval world.

Vengeance during the Middle Ages was part of the feuding process and often carried out in proportion to the initial wrong.

This wasn't always the case, especially when matters involved politics and kinship. Medieval rulers may have acted with brutality to demonstrate their power or avenge a personal affront, often paying back people who did them wrong with ferocity and ire. Mercy, grace, and kindness were also part of the medieval world and, of course, a middle ground existed. 

We found some acts of revenge from the Middle Ages that represent a range of reactions. Take a look and vote up the most ruthless ones. 


  • 1
    1,957 VOTES

    Olga Of Kyiv Wiped Out Her Neighbors With Pigeons And Sparrows

    The Drevlians (also spelled Derevlians) were a neighboring tribe to the kingdom of the Kyivan Rus. When they killed King Igor I of Kyiv in 945 CE, Igor's wife Olga became the regent for their son, Sviatoslav. Olga wanted revenge against the Drevlians. When they sent messengers to invite her to marry their prince, she received them with graciousness. She told them to wait one night for her reply and come back the next day. When they returned, she had the messengers captured and buried alive.

    Olga then sent her own emissaries to the Drevlians with a message they should send "their distinguished men" to negotiate with her - and they did. Those individuals were taken into a bathhouse and burned alive. In another round of messaging, Olga reportedly told the Drevlians

    I am now coming to you, so prepare great quantities of mead in the city where you killed my husband, that I may weep over his grave and hold a funeral feast for him.

    The Drevlians did as Olga instructed, but after the feast, her men killed as many as 5,000 drunk Drevlians. She returned to Kyiv and gathered forces to wipe out the whole of the Drevlian tribe. After a year of besieging their city, she asked them

    Why do you persist in holding out? All your cities have surrendered to me and submitted tribute... but you had rather die of hunger, without submitting to leave.

    The Drevlians agreed to make peace and, as part of that arrangement, Olga demanded each house give her three pigeons and three sparrows as a form of tribute. She took the birds back to Kyiv, attached "a piece of sulfur bound with small pieces of cloth," and sent them back to the Drevlians with their flammable cargo. When the birds landed, they set the entire settlement on fire. As the Drevlians fled, Olga's men caught or killed everyone they encountered. Her revenge was complete, and the Drevlians were no more. 

    1,957 votes
  • Basil II Blinded 99 Out Of Every 100 Of His Prisoners
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Aptly nicknamed "the Bulgar Slayer," Basil II was a Byzantine emperor for nearly five decades. As a skilled horseman and adept general, he led his forces into battle regularly, quashed rebellions, and fought against his Muslim neighbors. It was the Bulgars, however, who brought out his wrath. After a Bulgarian army defeated Basil at Trajan's Gate in 986, he was determined to exact revenge.

    Czar Samuel of Bulgaria tried to stop Byzantine incursions into his territory by blocking off the Kleidion pass. Repeated attempts to break through failed until Basil's general, Nikephoros Phocas, circled from behind and trapped the Bulgarian forces. As Basil attacked from the front and Nikephoros from the back, thousands of Bulgarians perished at the Battle of Kleidion on July 29, 1014.

    Basil took some 15,000 prisoners that day, and as the story goes, he ordered 99 out of every 100 men blinded. The lone prisoner who wasn't blinded lost only one eye so they could lead fellow troops back to Samuel. When Samuel "saw the equal and ordered detachments returning he could not bear it... but was himself struck blind and fell in a faint to the ground." He reportedly had a heart attack and passed in October 1014.

    953 votes
  • Justinian II Humiliated His Rivals By Using Them As Footrests Before Killing Them
    Photo: Master of the White Inscriptions, Master of the Getty Froissart / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Justinian II was the Byzantine emperor not once, but twice, holding the position from 685 to 695 and again from 705 until 711. He was surnamed Rhinotmetus because he wore a prosthesis after his nose was cut off when he was deposed in 695. Justinian was overthrown by one of his generals, Leontius, who also exiled his predecessor in 695.

    Justinian was known for his brutality, which was very much on display when he regained control of the Byzantine Empire in 705. He sneaked into Constantinople and staged a coup against the current emperor, Tiberius III (also called Apsimar).

    Tiberius had, several years earlier, mutilated Leontius in the same fashion as Justinian and sent him to a monastery. When Justinian seized power, however, he ripped Leontius out of the cloister and took him and Tiberius through the streets of Constantinople in chains. When they arrived at the hippodrome, Justinian "presided at the games with his feet resting on his prostrate-fettered rivals."

    Once events at the hippodrome ended, Justinian ordered both Leontius and Tiberius beheaded. The aftermath was gruesome, as it was reported:

    Men of civil and military distinction were slain in multitudes... Some were invited by the Emperor to the repast, and as they rose at its conclusion were taken to be gibbeted or decapitated; to others he made death bitter by enclosing them in a sack and casting them into the sea. 

    666 votes
  • Ivar The Boneless Blood-Eagled The Man Who Killed His Father
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

    Whether the “blood eagle” ritual associated with the Vikings actually took place (and to what extent, if it did) is still a subject of debate among historians. Referenced in several Norse sagas, the blood eagle was described by Esaias Tegner, the translator of Frithiof's Saga:

    It was a cruel punishment... It consisted in cutting the figure of an eagle on the back of the sufferer, separating the ribs from the backbone, and drawing the lungs from out the opening.

    According to Saxo Grammaticus's Gesta Danorum, sometimes salt was rubbed into the mutilated flesh. 

    Reserved for the most heinous offenders, the blood eagle was how Ivar the Boneless exacted vengeance upon King Aella II of Northumbria. The ninth century ruler had overseen the demise of Ivar's father, Ragnar Lodbrok, who according to legend was thrown into a pit of snakes. When Ivar heard about his father's demise, he vowed revenge.

    The Ragnarssona þáttr, or Tale of Ragnar's Sons, described how Ivar and his brothers exacted their vengeance: 

    Now had an eagle carved on [Aella's] back, and then cut all the ribs from the ridge with a sword, so that the lungs were pulled out. 


    753 votes
  • Vlad The Impaler Nailed Turbans To The Heads Of Defiant Turks
    Photo: Theodor Aman / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

    Vlad III of Wallachia, better known as Vlad the Impaler, is associated with Count Dracula, thanks to his brutality and the writings of Bram Stoker. Vlad served as the inspiration for the latter, in large part for his perceived bloodthirstiness. 

    He was a harsh ruler and did inflict bloody punishments against his enemies - especially impalement. He was particularly ruthless in how he impaled people, finding ways to do so while keeping them alive to suffer for days on end.

    Among the groups who experienced Vlad's wrath were the Ottoman Turks. He had an extreme disdain for them and missed few opportunities to demonstrate it. When Ottoman Emperor Mehmed II sent men to Vlad in 1459 to get a tribute payment, Vlad told them to remove their turbans. They refused, claiming it was their religious belief to keep them on.

    In response, Vlad offered to help them keep their turbans secure - and nailed them to the emissaries' heads

    804 votes
  • Genghis Khan Destroyed An Entire Empire After It Disrespected Him 
    Photo: Game of Thrones / HBO

    As Genghis Khan and his Mongol forces extended their influence across Asia, they entered into diplomatic agreements with many of the groups they came across. The Islamic empire of Muhammad II of Khwarezm (who ruled from 1200 until 1220), also known as Shah Ala ad-Din, violated one such arrangement during the 1210s.

    Within the Khwarezmian empire, Mongolian traders were supposed to be able to move freely and sell their wares. The governor of Otrar, Inalchuq, violated this and executed several hundred members of a Mongolian caravan. Inalchuq believed they were spies, but also took their possessions as his own. One man escaped and reported back to the Mongols what had happened.

    Genghis Khan sent emissaries to Shah Ala ad-Din, demanding Inalchuq be punished. The Shah cut off one diplomat's head and defiled the others, prompting Genghis Khan to launch an all-out siege, which Otrar endured for five months. Afterward, the Mongols took the city and killed or enslaved its residents. Inalchuq was executed, reportedly having molten silver poured into his eyes and ears. 

    610 votes