While crushing people’s heads in medieval vices certainly doesn’t happen anymore, the world is still home to some barbaric punishments today. Even in the most developed countries, you have things such as waterboarding, or the brain-wreck of being imprisoned in isolation.
Caning, which still happens in some countries, has been called “beyond excruciating”, while being stoned to death we can imagine must be an awful way to go. In 2008, reports emerged about a 13-year Somalian girl that had been buried up to her neck and stoned to death by 50 men. Her crime? Reporting a rape.
10: The Brazen Bull
Also known as the Sicilian Bull, this brutal punishment was around in ancient Greece. How do we know? The Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus, wrote about it in one of his many history books that covered various cultures of the time. He writes that a bull would be fashioned out of bronze to almost the same size as a real bull. There was a door in the side of the thing, through which people who were given the death penalty would be shoved. A fire was then lit under the bull and the person was roasted to death. It’s even said that the bull was designed in a way so that the screams would be emitted to onlookers. If this sounds bad, well, by the end of the show you might be thinking it wasn’t such a bad way to die.
9: Iron Maiden
You might have already heard of the name if you are into heavy metal music. The band got their name from a torture device. Like many contraptions of torture, historians dispute when and how it was used, but you can certainly find iron maidens in museums today. It’s thought that the first of them was a 14th century Germanic invention, but throughout the following centuries many historians would write about these devilish things.
They kind of look like an Egyptian mummy, but the inside of the door is festooned with spikes. When it’s closed, the person in the casket is impaled. As we said, some historians write that these things may not have been used, or used often, but they certainly existed. Others write that they were talked about a lot on the 18th and 19th centuries to show how barbaric people used to be and how much better they were in their era.
We probably should have included this in the first show as it is a terrible way to die. As you’ll know from reading Christian history, crucifixion involved tying or nailing a naked person to a wooden beam. The person would then be left to die slowly. That’s how Jesus Christ ended up. What you might not know, is that there were many ways to crucify a person.
Perhaps a good scenario was being nailed to a tree, but much worse was being impaled on a spike and left to die. Even in ancient history some people thought this was too much, with Roman philosopher Cicero calling it “a most cruel and disgusting punishment.” If you didn’t die of shock, or sepsis or dehydration, then the animals around might feast on you. You might also not know that it wasn’t just popular in ancient times. The Japanese crucified people in the 16th century, the Burmese in the 19th century, and in some parts of the Middle East crucifixion is still a legal punishment.
7: Spanish Donkey
This is a donkey no man or woman would ever want to ride. If you saw our first show, the way someone would be tortured is similar to that of the Judas Cradle. Prisoners would be sat on what looks like a triangular-shaped block of wood. This wood might have nails on the ridge. They would be lowered down onto the sharpened ridge, and sometimes pulled down by weights, which would cause excruciating pain. Some sources say this could result in the person being cut apart and dying, others say it just crippled a person. The French called it the Chevalet, or horse. A History Channel documentary says such a device was used during the American Civil War to torture Confederate prisoners. These prisoners would pass out from pain, and sometimes be disabled for life.
6: Breast Ripper
These awful things look like two pronged forks similar to the fangs of a snake, except they were made from iron. Featured in the book, “Victims and Values: A History and a Theory of Suffering,” it’s said they would be heated-up and then used to rip off a woman’s breasts as a punishment. This would cause severe scarring and the loss of breasts, but the infection that ensued would often kill the woman. The website Medieval Times and Castles, writes, “This instrument was mostly reserved for women accused of conducting a miscarriage or those accused of adultery.” There are some reports that ISIS used a similar instrument on a female victim in 2014, except they called it “The Biter.” The Biter was used, according to reports, because some women were accused of not wearing the correct dress.
5: Crocodile Shears
Men of course did not escape such barbaric punishments related to their manhood. Crocodile shears were iron tubes with teeth on the inside. They would be heated up and clamped on a man’s penis, as if it was in the mouth of a crocodile. This would result in castration, but again, in those days such a punishment often meant a slow death from infection.
Medieval Times and Castles writes, “The crocodile shears had a very specific purpose: To mutilate those who attempted to assassinate the king.” One other writer tells us, “After ripping off the penis they would rip off other things like your fingers, toes.” Attempting to or actually killing a king- regicide- was considered the worst of the worst, and so of course it warranted a punishment which would prevent any man from ever trying it again. It could have been worse, you could have gotten the iron comb. That was a heavy comb with sharp spikes run over the flesh until there wasn’t much of you left. People often got combed and then if that didn’t finish them they lost their heads.
4: The Chinese Torture Chair
Ok, so this is another piece of horror apparatus that may have been used to scare the living daylights out of a populous. Jigsaw from the ‘Saw’ franchise would have been envious of this chair, had he been real of course. We actually found one of them on a museum website, with the present owner listed. So, they did exist.
The chair is made from wood with 12 steel blades in the arm, back and foot rests and seat. It’s said in Europe a chair was used, although we refer to that simply as the “Iron Chair.” This might have had 500 to 1,500 spikes for the victim to sit on. Sometimes hot coals would be placed under the chair for added pain. One historian writes, “The spikes did not penetrate vital organs and blood loss was minimized — at least until the person was released from the chair.” We can’t imagine the outcome was good once the prisoner was released.
3: Chinese water torture
You might be thinking, what is this doing here among instruments that cause extreme physical pain. Well, perhaps being sent crazy slowly might be even worse that losing a body part or two. The torture consists of slowly dripping water on one part of the head, and apparently after enough time this will become absolutely unbearable, making the victim mad. Mythbusters tried it out to see if indeed it works, and the person didn’t last long at all. After not even 2 hours he asked the experiment to stop, complaining of “claustrophobia and shoulder spasms” and saying he was starting to crack-up. Imagine days of this. Skeptics are not sure it would be so effective. There’s only one way to find out!
2. Coffin Torture
The problem with this is the fact that it took you ages to die. It was very popular in the Middle Ages and used to scare people away from committing crimes. Victims would be hung up from a beam or tree inside a kind of coffin, a wooden prison with holes in it. It would be so small that the person was bent into a painful position. They were then just left there. People might throw stuff at them, prod them with sticks, etc. And they would stay there until they slowly died. Even after death they were left there, until the birds had picked apart their flesh and there wasn’t much of them left. The lucky ones were allowed down alive, if their crime wasn’t so bad perhaps.
One of the more creative tortures that has ever existed, this Persian method of execution is like no other. According to the book, “One Bloody Thing After Another: The World’s Gruesome History,” the victim was forced to eat a large amount of milk and honey, so much he would throw up – attracting ants and vermin. He was also covered in honey. Apparently, most of this honey would be smeared around the eyes, nose, mouth and genitals, and also in the ears and the anus. He would then be tied between two boats in a stagnant piece of shallow water, where he would be feasted on by all manner of insects and four-legged scavengers.
One Byzantine historian wrote, “Moreover his belly, distended as it is with milk and honey, throws off liquid excrements, and these putrefying breed swarms of worms, intestinal and of all sorts. Thus, the victim lying in the boats, his flesh rotting away in his own filth and devoured by worms, dies a lingering and horrible death.” He is basically eaten from the inside out, or he might be lucky to die sooner than that.
Believe it or not, we could have added many more to this list. If you could choose one of these ways to die, and one you certainly wouldn’t want, which ones would you choose? Let us know in the comments!