Sacrifices were a part of the Viking religious rituals. Animals as well as humans were used in these sacrifices which were dedicated to specific gods.
Among the most notable methods of offering a human sacrifice to Norse gods was by burning the offering on a pyre or strangulation.
Vikings typically offered sacrifices on the occasion of religious festivals or upon the death of a notable chieftain. Although slaves were most commonly used in human sacrifices, Viking noblemen and even kings were sacrificed upon certain occasions to please the gods.
Vikings Sacrifice at Religious Festivals
It was a common practice among the Vikings to offer sacrifices to the gods on the occasion of religious festivals. This was done so that the gods would propitiate better harvests and success against the enemies on the battlefield.
To this end, both humans as well as animals were sacrificed. According to some historical sources, Vikings sacrificed nine animals every nine years as well as nine humans.
This was done as a religious ritual in order to please the gods. Odin, the most powerful god in Norse pantheon, was most frequently associated with human sacrifices. However, historical sources mentioning these sacrifices are far from accurate.
Vikings Sacrifice at Funeral
It was a tradition among the Vikings that upon the death of a Viking nobleman, most of his belongings were buried with him. Since slaves of a nobleman also belonged to him, they were offered as sacrifices to the Norse gods and buried with the deceased nobleman.
The most direct account of human sacrifices at the occasion of Viking burials comes from Ibn Faldan, an Arab trader who witnessed a Viking burial first hand. According to his account, one of the deceased nobleman’s slaves volunteered to be offered up as a sacrifice and was consequently stabbed and strangled.
Other Viking sources such as the sagas also mention that the human being sacrificed had to offer himself or herself voluntarily although there is no historical evidence that this was always the case.
Vikings Sacrifices for Other Purposes
Apart from sacrifices at the occasions of religious festivals and funerals, Vikings also offered sacrifices at other occasions. One of the Norse sagas, for instance, relates that a Swedish king offered up nine of his sons as a sacrifice to the gods in order to attain longevity.
Another Norse saga relates that when one of the Swedish kings didn’t offer up sufficient sacrifices to the gods each year, this angered the Swedes who took it as the primary reason they were suffering from famine. Consequently, the Swedes marched on to the king with an army and burnt him in him own home as a sacrifice to Odin.
Mythological Significance of Viking Sacrifices
Strangulation was the most common method of human sacrifices in the Viking society. This was because death by hanging or strangulation was associated with the Norse god Odin.
According to Norse mythology, Odin had himself hanged on the world tree Yggdrasil as a sacrifice unto his himself in order to attain ultimate wisdom. He hung on the tree for nine nights and this may also explain why Vikings frequently used the figure of nine in determining the number of humans or animals to be sacrificed.