Blood Eagle

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A drawing of the Blood Eagle.

The Blood Eagle was a method of torture and execution that is sometimes mentioned in Nordic saga legends. It was performed by cutting the ribs of the victim by the spine, breaking the ribs so they resembled blood-stained wings, and pulling the lungs out through the wounds in the victim's back. Salt was sprinkled in the wounds. Victims of the method of execution, as mentioned in skaldic poetry and the Norse sagas, are believed to have included King Ælla of Northumbria, Halfdan son of King Haraldr Hárfagri of Norway, King Maelgualai of Munster, and possibly Archbishop Ælfheah of Canterbury.

The historicity of the practice is disputed. Some take it as historical evidence of atrocities fueled by pagan hatred of Christianity. Others take it as fiction: heroic Icelandic sagas, skaldic poetry and inaccurate translations.