Human sacrifice in viking age britain and ireland

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Human sacrifice, as part of pre-Christian religious rites, is one of a number of violent attributes commonly associated with the Vikings both in post-Viking Age medieval written and visual sources and in popular imagination, the latter perhaps best exemplified by the ‘blood eagle’ as performed on Jarl Borg and King Ælle of Northumbria in the popular television show Vikings. But is there any unequivocal contemporary evidence for human sacrifice? This paper will briefly discuss the problems of interpreting the evidence for human sacrifice, before concentrating on the evidence from Britain and Ireland. Despite the silence of contemporary insular written sources, it is found that there is one certain and other probable examples of human sacrifices in the archaeological records of England, Scotland, the Isle of Man, and Ireland. Amongst the probable examples is a new suggestion that human sacrifice occurred at Whithorn, the site of a Northumbrian bishopric and monastery, but now in southern Scotland. Discussion of Whithorn will be the focus of the article. The evidence for human sacrifice will be briefly discussed with regard to the active practice of Norse religious beliefs in Britain, and in the Scandinavian acculturation to indigenous practices, including Christianity, in the ninth and tenth centuries CE.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-88
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of the Australian Early Medieval Association
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2018


  • Anglo-Saxon Britain
  • Burial
  • Human sacrifice
  • Scandinavian
  • Viking


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