“Vikings”: Did the blood eagle really exist? The historical background of the gruesome execution


“Vikings” came to a pompous end on the Amazon Prime Video streaming service last December. Although the series creator, Michael Hirst, went to great lengths to tell the story as truthfully as possible, changes or exaggerations were made to keep viewers happy. But what about the blood eagle? The type of execution is extremely brutal and comes from Norse mythology, but did people really have to die in this cruel way?

“Vikings” – Not for the faint of heart

“Vikings” – What the blood eagle is all about

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In the series, it first meets Jarl Borg, who was executed after cheating on Ragnar. In the episode “Blood Eagle” you proceed as follows (attention, nothing for the faint of heart): First you cut open the back, then separate the ribs from the spine and bend them as well as the lungs outwards, so that the person concerned has “wings” “like an eagle gets. King Aelle also had to die in this way, but only those who remain calm and do not scream will come to Valhalla. Borg did it, Aelle didn’t.

But did the blood eagle really exist or is it a literary invention or even a translation error? The opinions of historians differ somewhat here. The story “Ragnarssona þáttr”, which tells of Ragnar and his sons, serves as the basis for the blood eagle. After Ragnar was thrown into a snake pit by King Aelle, the sons took revenge on him with the blood eagle. However, it is assumed that “Ragnarssona þáttr” is pure fiction, since the existence of Ragnar himself has not been clearly proven historically.

As Looper writes, historian Professor Howard MR Williams sees it similarly. He specializes in medieval archeology. He says there is no evidence, historical or archaeological, of this type of execution. He also does not consider it plausible to be absolutely quiet at the same time.

There is no doubt: the blood eagle is an extremely brutal way of dying, which went perfectly with the series “Vikings”. However, it is not historically proven, but that is not bad. The Viking series lived mainly from sagas, myths and Nordic legends. If you haven’t seen “Vikings”, you can see the series for yourself with the trailer above.

This article first appeared at TVSpielfilm.de.


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