3. Dying to a Viking was not the end of the misery for an individual, as your corpse would be posthumously mutilated as a display of victory in an attempt to gain the attention of the Norse pagan deities
Believing that the time of their deaths was predetermined, it was beholden upon a Norseman to seek to acquire as much fame and glory in the time that they had to best impress their deities in Valhalla; consequently, each Viking sought to surpass another in their displays of violence to garner greater attention from the gods and earn their place in the legendary afterlife. This ever-intensifying competition in brutality in the name of glory culminating in the cultural practice of humiliating best opponents; it was insufficient to merely defeat an enemy, one had to shame them and actively promote your triumph to the world. An archaeological investigation of Viking Age graves by Niel Price from Uppsala University has produced substantial evidence, corroborated by subsequent studies, that, although each inherently unique, these remains and the composition of the graves bear consistent characteristics, in particular bodily mutilations.
As detailed by Elise Naumann, “there are lots of macabre treatments of the bodies. Some have chopped off limbs, such as in the Viking graves at Kaupang“, and a routine feature of those buried in traditional Viking manner was that the deceased “seem to have suffered a brutal death”; as mentioned, important individuals were often accompanied by their slaves into the afterlife, with the remains of these presumed thralls equally mutilated and brutalized. Naumann has hypothesized that “the fact that the graves are so disparate might mean that they are part of a burial ritual that recreates important incidences in the deceased person’s life. This would explain why each grave is unique,”.
2. Viking sports and competitions were, unsurprisingly, incredibly violent and dangerous, with the likelihood of injury of death extremely high
Sports have been a fundamental aspect of human civilizations throughout history, with the Vikings no exception to this cultural pastime. One such known game took place in water, and can be best described as a “drowning competition”. The goal of this sport was to hold the opponent underwater for as long as possible; the LaxdÃ¦la saga details a drowning contest between Kjartan Ãlafsson and King Ãlafur Tryggvason, as well as between King Eysteinn and King Sigurd. Another, known as toga hÃ¶nk or “tug-of-war”, involved two men facing each other and pulling on a length of rope; it is likely this competition, using similar movements and muscles to rowing, served as test of capability and strength for prospective crew. Ball games were also played by the early Vikings, of particular note Knattleikr. Described in the GÃsla saga SÃºrssonar, Knattleikr was played every autumn at MiÃ°fjarÃ°arvatn and involved two teams of evenly matched players fairly ordered by strength; these teams engaged one another in full-contact, attempting to gain possession of the ball for an unknown purpose.
Even wrestling, a recurrent contest of strength in many early civilizations, was more brutal in Viking society. The sport of “GlÃma” was fought in a wrestling field which contained a “fanghella“: a flat stone upon which one could break opponents back; the Kjalnesinga saga details a match between King BÃºi and an unknown opponent, wherein BÃºi wore a special jacket – fangastakkur – which protected him from having his spine shattered on the rock and allowed him to win. Similarly, the aftermath of eating a meal was, inexplicably, turned into a violent sport: hnÃºtukast. In hnÃºtukast participants threw bones from the meal at each other with the goal of causing injury; the BÃ¡rÃ°ar saga SnÃ¦fellsÃ¡ss details a game of hnÃºtukast in which Gestur threw a bone at GlÃ¡mur, hitting him in the eye and causing it to fall out of the socket onto his cheek.
1. The Vikings possessed imaginative brutality, devising perhaps the most unpleasant method of execution in human history – the blood eagle
Given the immensely brutal conditions of existence within Viking culture, it is perhaps unsurprising that they are held responsible for the creation of the one of, if not the most vicious and painful mode of execution ever devised by humanity: the blood eagle. The blood eagle was a ritualistic and sacrificial method of execution, whereupon the victim was lain before his killer and who severed his ribs from his spine; through the opening created by this painful brutalization, the victims’ lungs were then pulled out and draped over their shoulders to create an illusion of wings. Accounts of the blood eagle appear just twice in surviving Norse accounts, although is alluded to in other sources, with both named victims of royal status and killed by a son in vengeance for the murder of their father, suggesting the reservation of the method of execution only for those of special significance and specific purpose.
The execution of the first victim, Halfdan Haaleg, also known as “Halfdan Long-leg”, is provided by the Orkneyinga saga, detailing the sacrifice of the son of Harald Fairhair to Odin at the hands of Torf-Einarr: “Einarr made them carve an eagle on his back with a sword, and cut the ribs all from the backbone, and draw the lungs there out, and gave him to Odin for the victory he had won. The second known victim, Ãlla of Northumbria, described in the “Tale of Ragnar’s sons”, was executed by Ivar the Boneless in 867 CE in retribution for the murder of his father, the legendary Viking ruler Ragnar LoÃ°brÃ³k. Captured after a battle at York, the saga recounts that “they caused the bloody eagle to be carved on the back of Ãlla, and they cut away all of the ribs from the spine, and then they ripped out his lungs.”