Blood Eagle – The World’s Ritualized Method of Execution

The “Blood Eagle” is one of the most horrific, savage and slowest torture methods ever explained. It is affiliated with the Vikings of the 9th Century. It was reportedly first thought up by one of the most notorious and atrocious Vikings – Ivar the Boneless – who used it to strike fear into his enemies. So, how does it work? According to Smithsonian Magazine:

First the intended victim would be restrained, face down; next, the shape of an eagle with outstretched wings would be cut into his back. After that, his ribs would be hacked from his spine with an ax, one by one, and the bones and skin on both sides pulled outward to create a pair of “wings” from the man’s back. The victim, it is said, would still be alive at this point to experience the agony of what Turner terms “saline stimulant”—having salt rubbed, quite literally, into his vast wound. After that, his exposed lungs would be pulled out of his body and spread over his “wings,” offering witnesses the sight of a final bird-like “fluttering” as he died.



Sounds terrible! Here are some details about it to help you answer those questions for yourself!

The victim would either be cut down the front (disembowelment) and the ribs would be separated. Leaving the chest cavity open and unprotected. The other possible method was that the victim was cut from behind; the torturer digging his hands into the victim’s torso and to the front and separating the ribs in such a way that they came out through his back. Giving the illusion of wings and thus a “bloody eagle”.

Although, this is a gruesome fate. It was almost humane in a way as it gave nearly instant death…if not for the massive blood loss often started a cascade of shock. Other methods of torture were meant to keep the victim alive and suffering.

For example, one way was to put hot coals in the back of the knees and elbows, burning the tendons and tying the limbs in a manner that they would be completely flexed. So, they would heal in that way and the victim would be left with function-less limbs. Ouch.

This cruel method had a long tradition in Scandinavia and was used against the most revolting enemies. There’s no exact date attached to its origins nor is there a specific legal prohibition as to its use, but popular culture portrayals 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 involvement in Viking sagas part of Christian propaganda meant to illustrate the Scandinavian pagans as heretics? Has the lore of the Blood Eagle surpassed the historical accuracy of its existence?

What do you think?

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