January 3, 2012
Many executions were as much as a torture as they were a death.
The Emperor Caligula I believe had a saying, “Make the victim feel like death before killing him”
It’s probably in part where the saying “I feel like death” comes from.
Caligula had some pretty barbaric methods of execution, and actually enjoyed watching people die.
The name Caligula was actually a pet name for him, his real name was Gaius Ceasar”.
Caligula means “Little boots”
However this is not to say that Caligula was the only emperor who enjoyed torture and murder.
But that is a whole new ball game.
Hanging drawing and quartering was a barbaric manner of death, and although we have moved on from these dreadful times, some countries still use some form or other of execution.
The USA is one among many who still use the death penalty for the most heinous of crimes, either by the gas chamber (although this was abolished in the 80’s I believe as it was considered inhumane as it could take the victim several minutes to expire), electrocution (which is only used sparingly) or by lethal injection.
One of the most famous executions in the USA was Julius and Ethel Rosenburg who were accused of spying. There is a room close to the execution chamber, where Julius and Ethel spent their last moments together, and they were supposed to have shared a last dance together. This room has since become known as the dance hall. But it was also where the prisoners passed through on the way to meet their death and basically they tried to escape from the guards.
Other methods of execution in other countries, could be (and in certain countries still are) beheading or hanging.
France still used the guillotine up until 1977 and the death penalty was finally abolished in 1981.
The last person to be guillotined in france was Hamida Djandoubi on the 10th September 1977.
Hanging in England had been used since Anglo Saxon times, but was suspended in 1965 before finally being abolished in 1969.
The last woman to have been executed by hanging in England was Ruth Ellis on the 13th July 1955, for shooting dead her lover David Blakeney.
The last men to be hung in England were Gwynne (Owen) Evans, and Peter Allen, for the murder of John Alan West.
Both were hanged on the 13 August 1964, Gwynne Evans at Strangeways in Manchester and Peter Allen in Wansworth.
In 1196 the Holy Roman emperor, and King of Scilily Henry V1 executed Richard Count of Acerra for his part in the rebellion of Scilily.
Count Richard was dragged though the streets of Capua on a hurdle, after which he was to be hung upside down alive. Two days Richard was still alive King Henry’s fool a man called Follis (leather bag) tied a large stone around Richard’s neck killing him. (I’m guessing the weight of the stone broke Richard’s neck)
In ancient Greece the general method there was to get the victim to kill themselves, either by the sword or poison. Socrates was condemned for speaking out against the Athenian society, and drank Hemlock to kill himself.
Many Romans chose death by poison or by falling on their sword when things went wrong for them. I believe the reasoning here was to protect their family from the dishonour they had caused. If they killed themselves before the Roman soldiers did it the Emperor couldn’t penalize the victim’s widow and children. Whether it actually worked out that way is open to debate?
Technically this is suicide really but it’s not like they had a choice here, they either killed themselves or they were executed.
“The Brazen Bull”
This is self-explanatory, basically it was made of bronze and a hollow life size sculpture of a bull, with a door on the side of it. The poor victim was locked inside of it and a fire was lit underneath it, of course once it started to heat the metal, the poor victim would scream and because of the way it was constructed those screams could be heard and sounded like a bellowing bull, as the victim slowly roasted to death. In the morning the door would be opened and the bones of the victim had taken on a golden hue, which many Romans had turned into jewellery.
Sadly the first victim of the Brazen Bull was it’s creator a blacksmith called Perilaus of Athens.
I guess the tyrant Phalasis of Sicily who showed an interest in it, wanted to be sure that it really did what Perilaus claimed it did.
Of course we all know what Crucifixion is but even so a victim didn’t die straight away it could often take days. I believe that the reason why Jesus was ran through with a lance on Good Friday, was because it was considered to be bad luck to die on a Saturday in Roman times.
Then we come to the famous Vlad the impaler, or Vlad Dracula.. The word Dracul means “Dragon,” so Dracula means “son of the dragon”, and has no connection to the blood thirsty creation of Bram Stoker (Titbit Alert.. Bram Stoker originally called his creation Count Woomdeay, excuse my shocking spelling)
Vlad reputation as an impaler is well known and it was certainly not a nice way to die. The victim would have a point of a wooden stake hammered into his anus and then the victim would be raised and gravity would do the rest.
Vlad like Caligula enjoyed watching the pain and torments of his victim’s suffering and watching them die.
It wasn’t uncommon for the stake to travel through the body and miss every vital organ on its journey and reappear through the mouth. If that happened the poor victim could stay alive for many days in agony whilst the birds pecked at the victims eyes.
If Vlad was feeling sadistic the victim would have the blunt end of the stake instead.
He also sent the bodies of the ambassadors of the Ottoman empire back to their leader with their turbans nailed on their head.
Naturally the Ottomen rulers retaliated but Vlad had one final act of defiance, he impaled hundreds if not thousands of people along the borders of his realm and when the Ottoman army reached the border and saw the carnage that Vlad had created, they backed off and returned home.
Vlad was eventually overthrown, but even in prison he couldn’t give up impaling things and rats, mice and birds were his victims…
There is a story that, when he died his body was buried in front of the altar of his local church/monastery where the monks would pray for his soul..
However when his grave was opened many many years later it was found to be empty.
Bram Stoker’s may well have heard this story and Dracula, was born. The blood thirsty count who rose from the dead to feast on the blood of the living.
The Wheel or the Catherine wheel. (England and other countries)
The victim was tied to this and as the wheel turned the executioner would beat the victim, this would naturally break a person’s bones, after death the victim was left to rot and their bones would be picked clean by the birds. Another version on the Wheel was a person was tied to a water wheel and rolled down a big hill.
Or they could be roasted over a large turn spit.
The 4th Earl of Cassillis is supposed to have done just exactly this with a man called Allen Stewart over a land dispute. Thankfully Allen was rescued by his brother in law. However this rescue created a feud between the lairds of Bargany and the Cassillis earls.
Scaphism also known as the boats (This was mainly used in places like Persia in ancient times)
The Victim or sometimes victims, who were tied back to back, were sat in a boat or a hollowed out tree trunk naked. One victim would be fed milk and honey until he got diarrhea. If there was one victim they may also be covered in honey to attract insects, if 2 people the one would be covered in honey whilst the other was fed. He (they) would cast adrift in a swamp the build up of fecal matter there would be flies and other insects taking full advantage of the situation would feast and breed on the victim(s) and he (they) would die slowly sometimes in days (if they were lucky) or weeks of starvation, dehydration and madness.
Death by Elephant (used in Asia)
The victim was made to lie down with his head usually on a flat stone, the elephant simply brought his foot down and crushed the man skull death was instantaneous. Just as well really.
Guess that’s where the saying “Putting your foot down” may well have origins from.
Lingchi or Death by a thousand cuts. (Used in China)
This was used as a method of execution from 900 CE up until it was outlawed in 1905.
The victim was literally cut to pieces with a knife very slowly. If the executioner was feeling merciful he may give the victim Opuim.
Woman were also executed in this manner
Flaying alive was a similar form of execution.
Death by Bamboo. (Asia)
This method of execution was used in parts of Asia, it is believed to have been used by the Japanese soldiers during WW2.
The victim is staked over a new growth of bamboo, this tenacious plant grows steadily and slowly over a few weeks the victim is impaled.
Some victims were force fed which could keep them to prolong their agony and eventual demise.
Certain types of bamboo can grow at the alarming rate of 36ins over a 24 hour period.
Burying alive.. (Rome, Netherlands (during the Hapsburg era) and Russia)
This is fairly obvious the victim died very quickly of suffocation. However some victims had fresh air pumped into their coffins, they would take days or sometime weeks to die of starvation and dehydration.
In Rome this was reserved for the vestal virgins who had broken their vow of chastity.
The head crusher. (Used in the Middle ages)
Basically it does what it says on the box. The device itself consisted of a large vice with a metal bar on the bottom and a skull cap on the top. The victim would rest his chin on the metal bar and the skull cap was placed on his head. A executioner/torturer would start to screw it down slowly and surely, the first thing to happen to the victim would be his teeth would shatter then his jaw would break and lastly due the pressure building on his skull that would also shatter, death would occur very quickly after that.
The Judas Cradle.. (This has its roots in Ancient Rome where it was used as a sleep depriving device against Rome’s enemies, it took on a more sinister use later on in history)
It was used on both men and woman.
The cradle itself was a stool with pyramid type structure with a very sharp pointed top on it.
The victim was stripped naked as suspended above it by a system of ropes and pulleys, the victim was lowered down on the cradle and the sharpened point of the cradle was inserted into the anus (or Vagina if the victim was female) and then the victim would have sacks of sand or weights attached to their feet over time, and this would tear the victim apart.
For added discomfort some torturers/executions would raise and lower the victim.
I would imagine any victim of this horrific device would soon tell the torturer/ execution anything they want to hear very quickly.
Of the few that did survive they would soon die, either from the injuries inflicted and/or infection as the “Cradle” was rarely (if at all) washed.
“The Spanish Donkey” was a similar sort of device and looked a little like a triangular shaped saw horse. This was used and designed with women in mind.
The victim (again naked) had her hands tied behind her back and was sat astride the Donkey again weights would be apply to her legs pulling her downwards, in time, the woman’s pelvis would literally be split in half, and death would soon occur one way or another. Some “Spanish donkey’s” may have spikes on them for added discomfort.
“The Iron chair or the Judas Chair” (Was used in Roman times but has been used throughout history)
Basically this was large chair made of iron and covered in small spikes, the victim would be strapped to the chair and heated coals would be placed below the seat, this in turn would heat the iron and the victim would roast to death.
Many Christians during Roman times would suffer and die in this matter.
“The Knee Splitter” (A favoured tool of the Spanish inquisition)
A vice like tool with long metal spikes, this was placed either side of the victim’s knee and slowly tightened. The spikes would pierce through the flesh and as the torturer continued to turn the handle the spikes would go through the bones of the knees. It wasn’t life threatening unless of course the person got an infection, but it did mean the victim would never walk again as it completely destroyed the knee joint.
“The Breast ripper but may also be known as “The Cat’s paw” or “The (iron) Spider”
(16th Century instrument but may have its roots further back in history)
(Again an instrument used solely on woman. The crimes for which this would be used were Blasphemy, Witchcraft or self -abortion)
(Looked rather like a bladed pair of tongs, but there were variants of it.)
The victim was tied to a post with their hands behind their back, with their breast exposed.
The breast ripper would be clamped onto their breast and would be ripped from their body.
Sometimes the tongs were heated causing more pain to the victim. Death would almost certainly be from blood loss and/or infection.
“The Crocodile Shears” (A male torture device)
(A large pair of scissors which were designed to look like a Crocodile, some of which may have had spikes in)
This was actually designed to punish people accused of regicide, whether it was actually used is debatable.
If it was, it was used to cut off the victims fingers, nose, ears or toes and possible may have also been used to castrate the victim too.
“The Crocodile Tube” (although it looks more like a ring, than a tube)
It wasn’t common but it was mainly used on infidels or thieves, and was perhaps the cruellest torture ever invented.
The victim was placed inside a metal tube just big enough to fit their body in, (very often the tube also had metal spikes in it) and this would completely immobilise the victim and all they could see was their feet.
The tube would then be heated until either the victim confessed or died. The torturer could also inflict facial mutilation and cut off the victim’s toes.
“Boiling in Oil/Water.” (Asia and Europe)
Oil and water are the usual methods of execution, but tar and lead or maybe even wax and wine could also be used. Boiling tar/oil and water would be poured over invaders by people defending their homesteads.
Another form of this execution was placing the victim in a shallow pan and effectively frying the victim to death.
This method of execution was used on poisoners and as we all know in 1531 this did indeed happen to one hapless man called Richard Roose, in the household of Bishop Fisher. 2 people died as a result and many were ill including the Bishop.
H8 passed a law in 1531 to make boiling to death the punishment for all poisoners
It was also used again in 1542 on a woman called Margaret Davy E6 repealled this form of execution in 1547.
The victim was suspended above a large vat of boiling liquid and would be lowered slowly into the vat, some executioners dip the victim again and again into the boiling liquid to prolong the suffering of the victim.
“The Scavenger’s Daughter or Skeffington’s daughter. ( Appeared in Henry 8th reign)
This was an “A” shaped iron frame with a hinge in the middle, and a loop at the top.
The loop at the top would be placed around the victim’s neck, whist their feet would be shackled to the bar at the bottom. This would force the victim to crouch, over time in such a restricted position, the victim breathing would become difficult and blood could pour from their mouth, nose, ears etc.
The victim’s ribs could also break and puncture their lungs or the heart.
It wasn’t used very often though perhaps the sight of it in the chamber of horrors in the tower was enough to terrify a victim into confessing whether they had done something or not.
It was however used in Russia and the Middle East.
“The virgin of Nuremburg or The (Iron) maiden” (16th Century)
This was a 7 foot sort of cupboard, the door of which was shaped like a maiden. The inside of the door was fitted with strategically placed spikes.
The victim was tied and locked inside the maiden and the spikes would pierce the body, the spikes would not inflict any damage on any vital organs however, and the victim couldn’t hear anything from the outside, the only thing he could hear was his own screams and moans of pain alone in the dark.
The spikes would also block most of the bleeding and it could and would take several hours or many days for the victim to die.
Some executioners, would open the door (with difficulty) and close it periodically (The spikes would re-enter the same wounds) to maximise the pain and suffering of the victim.
This was basically another vice like instrument designed to crush a victim’s foot.
There are however several variations one of these was called “Copper Boot” and rather than crushing a victim’s foot it could be heated and would roast the victim’s foot instead.
The Scottish people had their own version of the boot, they used softened rawhide and wrapped it as tightly as they could around the victim’s foot, so that it looked like the victim was wearing a plaster cast, they would then place the victim’s foot over a fire, as the rawhide dried it tightened and began to crush the victim’s foot .
The victim is staked to the ground, on his stomach is placed a metal container in which there is an rat or 2 and maybe even 3.
Hot coals are placed on top of the metal container, as the metal heats the rat(s) panic and start to claw, bite and burrow their way through the victim’s stomach in a bid to escape.
The victim could take several hours to die as a result.
“The Saw torture”
The word “Saw” should give this one away, and it is one that men and woman certainly had a very a sore (saw) point.
It was used on a person accused of blasphemy, theft, adultery and witchcraft.
The victim is hung upside down with their legs apart and then with a two handed saw the victim was slowly sawn in half.
However in China the sawing of the victim usually started with the head thus death would follow fairly quickly.
Ah yes last but not least is:
“The Rack” or the more affectation name of “The Duke of Exeter’s daughter”
(“The affectionate name comes from the man who first brought it to England in the 1420’s”)
But there was certainly nothing affectionate about it, the victim would be tied, to the rack by the wrists and ankles. The torturer would turn the crank and the victim’s joints would be stretched, a victim pretty soon gave up their secrets. However there were a few who refused to speak and their joints were ripped apart, in terrible pain and unable to walk they soon confessed and were usually executed.
The Rack was designed solely with the torturing men, but 1 woman was indeed tortured on the rack.
Anne Askew a woman who was a devout reformist and spoke out against the vain imagination of Popish religion, in Henry 8th reign. She was also a friend of Queen Catherine Parr and people like Bishop Stephen Gardiner saw Anne as an opportunity to get rid of Queen Catherine and finally get Henry to return to Rome.
Although Henry embraced some of the reformist doctorine he was still in a Catholic at heart and still observed many of the Catholic ways.
Anne was arrested and taken to the tower, I believe that Gardiner did follow the accepted way of torture when it came to Anne (i.e Tell them what would happen if they remained silent, show them the instruments and then use the instruments. Going from the gentler methods such as the thumbscrews and holding their hand over a burning candle an then in degrees to the more brutal tortures.)
Anne however was a very stubborn woman and refused to tell them anything about what Catherine did or said in her household or what books Catherine read and was teaching Edward and Elizabeth.
For Gardiner this must have been very frustrating, and in the end he ordered that Anne must be racked despite the protests from the tower guard.
Anne remained silent she simply prayed in English and bore the torture of the rack with greater courage than any man before her.
Poor Anne was torn apart on the rack and still she remained silent, in the end Gardiner knew that whatever he did Anne would never speak what he wanted to hear.
Anne was sentenced to be burnt at the stake, broken from the rack she had to be carried to the stake and tied to a chair.
Someone, as an act of mercy had tied a bag of gunpowder around her neck, in a bid to end her suffering quickly, but sadly all this did was increase her suffering.
At the time it wasn’t known that the only way that gunpowder created an explosion to blow things up was if it was contained inside something, such as a cannon or a barrel. The bag of gunpowder did indeed flare up but all it would have done is scorch poor Anne.
As the flames consumed her she quietly prayed, she was a woman of great courage and strength..
A euphemism for torture was “Put the person to the question”
Guido (Guy) Fawlkes was also tortured on the rack and held out for three days before finally cracking and telling the torturer all he knew. He hoped that in the three days he remained silent his fellow conspirator’s would have escaped and fled the country..
That didn’t happen and some of them died on the scaffold with him. Sentenced to the full horror, he watched as his friends were brutally slaughtered. When it came to his turn, his limbs broken and useless he had to be helped up the scaffold. The rope was placed around his neck and the guard pushed him up the ladder, with one final act of defiance Guido managed to jump from the scaffold and break his neck. He still went through the full horror but didn’t suffer as his friends had done.
Semper Fidelis, quod sum quod
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