Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to Sigv Knútdr 1I

[All]: This stanza has been central in the controversy as to whether the Vikings genuinely did practise the rite of the ‘blood-eagle’ on their victims, or whether this is a misconception and elaboration by later saga authors and scholars. The author of RagnSon intepreted the stanza as follows (FSGJ I, 298): Létu þeir nú rista örn á baki Ellu ok skera síðan rifin öll frá hrygginum með sverði, svá at þar váru lungun út dregin ‘They now had an eagle carved on the back of Ælla and afterwards had all the ribs cut from the backbone with a sword, so that the lungs were pulled out there’. However, Frank (1984a) argued that the stanza simply means that Ívarr provided Ælla’s body as carrion, able to be torn by the eagle as one of the ‘beasts of battle’. For responses and re-statements see Bjarni Einarsson (1986), Frank (1988), Bjarni Einarsson (1990) and Frank (1990b); clearly a central point is whether skera ‘cut’ (here p. p. skorit) can be used of the action of a bird, or must refer to a weapon. For earlier historians’ views see Smyth (1977, 189-94) and Wormald (1982, 140). McTurk (1994), by contrast, argues that ari here is a heiti for ‘sword’ and does not refer to an eagle at all.


  1. Bibliography
  2. Frank, Roberta. 1984a. ‘Viking Atrocity and Skaldic Verse: The Rite of the Blood-Eagle’. English Historical Review 99, 332-43.
  3. FSGJ = Guðni Jónsson, ed. 1954. Fornaldar sögur norðurlanda. 4 vols. [Reykjavík]: Íslendingasagnaútgáfan.
  4. Bjarni Einarsson. 1986. ‘De Normannorum Atrocitate, or on the Execution of Royalty by the Aquiline Method’. SBVS 22, 79-82.
  5. Bjarni Einarsson. 1990. ‘The Blood-Eagle Once More: Two Notes. A. Blóðörn: An Observation on the Ornithological Aspect’. SBVS 23, 80-1.
  6. Frank, Roberta. 1988. ‘The Blood-Eagle Again’. SBVS 22, 287-9.
  7. Frank, Roberta. 1990b. ‘The Blood-Eagle Once More: Two Notes. B. Ornithology and the Interpretation of Skaldic Verse’. SBVS 23, 81-3.
  8. McTurk, Rory. 1994. ‘Blóðörn eða blóðormr?’. In Gísli Sigurðsson et al. 1994, II, 539-41.
  9. Smyth, Alfred P. 1977. Scandinavian Kings in the British Isles 850-880. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  10. Wormald, C. P. 1982. ‘Viking Studies: Whence and Whither?’. In Farrell 1982, 128-53.
  11. Internal references
  12. 2017, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Ragnars sona þáttr’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 777.


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