By Michelle Styles
|Scene supposidly showing a Viking execution of a defeated enemy|
The verse in question dealt with the murder of the Christian Northumbrian king Aella by the pagan Ivar during the capture of York. It basically says that Aella was killed by Ivar the Boneless. To be fair, Aella had killed Ivar’s father, Ragnar the Hairy Breeches (Ragnar Lodbrok -- the subject of the Historiy channel Viking series) by putting him in a snake pit without his famous trousers. Aella had also usurped the throne and Northumbria was engaged in a civil war. Ragnar’s three sons vowed revenge and took it. Getting rid of Aella provided the pretext for the invasion of Britain and the conquering of Northumbria.
Some excitable scribe decided that he was killed by carving an eagle in Aella’s back. Aella looks a bit like the Latin word for eagle. The story grew and grew until it became very complicated. It fit the image that Christian scribes wanted for the Vikings. Basically even though many Christian warriors behaved with great ferocity during that time, it made for better reading if the Vikings were worse.
So did the Vikings ever do this sort thing? Who knows. It may be that they simply never thought about it. They certainly did not hesitate to kill their enemies and their respect for the law was more in how much they could manipulate it to their advantage. Some scholars point to the word blothorn (blood eagle) as evidence for the pratice. It could be that the Vikings turned the defeated on thier stomachs, exposing thier backs which allowed eagles (or more likely vultures and other carrion birds) to attack their backs.