Human Sacrifice – Northern Europe

When we talk about human sacrifices, people usually link that to an image of deep jungles somewhere in the southern areas of South America, and those semi-naked indigenous (or perhaps the Incas and Aztecs) opening someone’s chest and taking out the heart, while the victim succumbs to death. But sacrificing humans to the gods or to achieve something good to the community, has always been a common practice among the cultures of Europe, far back from the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age to the medieval Ages, and in some places later than that.

It may be common knowledge that in the northern european societies, (before and during the Viking Age) human sacrifices were common, and even great chieftains and kings would sacrifice themselves for their army to achieve victory.

There is an interesting place that I would like to mention here (and that is actually the main subject of this post) that was the background for human sacrifices in northern Europe. Trelleborg – in modern Sweden – it was found there, by the archaeologists, the remains of sacrificed animals and humans. Interestingly, the site contains the remains of children as well, between the ages of four and eight. The remains have been found buried within deep wells. The remains of these children indicate the importance of human sacrifice in Scandinavian culture. If the Vikings sacrificed their own progeny, then human sacrifice must have been of the utmost importance in their rituals.

Northern mythology tells us of Odin sacrificing his eye in the well of Mimir in order to attain knowledge and be able to see into the past, present and future; this mythic well may represent the vessel in which offerings and sacrifices are thrown to the gods.

The sacrificial hanging was fairly frequent at a great festival which took place every nine years at Upsala. The bodies of victims, both human and animal, were hung in the grove close to the temple. Usually the human victims were war prisoners and were sacrificed to Odin. There is even an account from Ynglinga, that Idrundr and Eirikr captured Gulaugr – king of the Háleygir, and hunged him.
There are other rather disturbing sacrifices such as King Aun who sacrificed his own sons to Odin in order that he may have his life prolonged. A man might save his own life if he gives the life of another in exchange, similarly, the state must offer human sacrifices in order to ensure its own preservation and success.
Despite the findings at Trelleborg and such other places like Upsala or Leire, the practice of human sacrificing seemes to remain a contested concept among historians. Human sacrifices were in practice in the early Viking Age, and before that, by the Norse, not only in official ceremonies but also in private context.
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