Thormod draws out an arrow; author and date unknown. Wikimedia Commons

15. Viking medicine was immensely rudimentary, including the tasting of blood from a wound to determine the severity of the injury

The Vikings were legendary for their brutality and fearlessness in battle, but were nonetheless human and, thus, suffered injuries of varying degrees of significance in combat. After the fighting was over, these temporary treatments were replaced by Viking battlefield medicine. These practices were of dubious efficacy, typically carried out by women, with little scientific foundation to many of the more commonly applied treatments. One such method of determining a warrior’s prognosis was to feed the wounded soldier a broth made from leeks, onions, and herbs, before smelling the wound. If the healer could detect the broth’s odor emanating from within, the wound was fatal. In the aforementioned story of Thormod, he refused the broth when offered and instead commanded the attending woman to cut into his wound and locate the arrowhead within, using pincers. Thormod himself pulled the arrowhead from his chest and joked “see how well the king keeps his men. There is fat by my heart”.

Another similarly brutal medical practice was the use of blood from a wound to determine the nature of an injury. In the Eyrbyggja saga, Snorri goði, in pursuit of a wounded Bergþór, tastes the bloody snow marked by his prey. Identifying the blood was from a severe and fatal internal wound, Snorri forgoes the unnecessary hunt. Magic was also used to unscientifically heal wounds sustained in the course of a duel. The Kormáks saga details the sacrifice of a bull atop a hill and the offering of its butchered meat for elves who supposedly lived in the hills as a tribute in return for the healing of Þorvarðr.