The Blood Eagle: The disturbing Viking execution which pulled your lungs out into wings.

The Blood Eagle was by popular folklore, a method of execution used by the Vikings. If you’ve ever seen the television series of the same name, you may have watched the scene where King Aelle of Northumbria suffers this gruesome fate in retaliation for killing the son of Ragnar Lodbrok, which involved throwing him into a pit of snakes.

The episode provides a helpful guide as to how this execution is imagined. First, Aelle was nailed to a wooden board, with them being hammered through his hands. His shirt was then forcefully ripped off his back making it bare, as a sword was heated up on a hot fire.

The sword was then stabbed into his back just below his neck, not too deeply, before carving downwards, with the heat perhaps to ensure he didn’t bleed out. The outer skin was then forcefully ripped backwards to reveal his inner muscle and spinal arrangements.

At this point, the executioner then took a hammer and chisel and began hammering away at the back of his ribs, presumably to remove them to gain access to the lungs. The drama depicts Aelle soon dying at this stage. The next morning, his corpse is then lifted up into the trees with his back opened up like wings. The blood eagle has been completed.

There is a historical debate regarding whether the blood eagle was an actual practice, which has led some scholars to theorise how it could be possible. A 2022 study however argued that it was not inconsistent with physiology or Viking society. Either way, it has become an icon of how terrifying the Vikings were during their invasions of Britain.

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