Beheading has long been one of the most common ways of execution. In Europe in the Middle Ages, beheading was considered an honourable form of death. With the introduction of the guillotine during the French Revolution, beheading became the norm for commoners and nobility alike. However, in empires such as the Mongolian empire, beheading was considered of low statues compared to execution where no blood was spilled, like being trample by horses until death, or the more honourable back breaking. Today, Mongolia has abolished the death penalty, but this two-handed sword used for beheadings, collected in Mongolia in 1930 by Ole Albertsen, speaks to a specific way of understanding the body and blood. Because what is it about the spilling of blood that is best avoided, deeming beheading a less honourable form of death?
The importance of blood is seen in the myth of Chinggis Khan’s birth. Here a mysterious blood clot appears in his clenched fist. Blood is here depicted as an extremely important aspect of spirituality that by Mongols is seen as a sign for why Chinggis was destined to live a life of violence and conquest. In the Secret History of the Mongols, the oldest text written in the Mongolian language, blood represents the carrier of a Mongol’s soul, and should never be unjustly spilt or disrespected. Blood as such has a dangerous presence of which one needs to be fearful. In terms of beheading, blood is also the thing, which is ‘in between’. As a matter somewhat out of place between the body and the head, it does not belong to either. In this state of being, it is difficult to categorise blood, which might be why beheading among the Mongols was not the preferred way of execution. Blood’s spiritual connotations can perhaps be seen as a form of respect for the body as soul, different to the European division between mind and matter.