A collection of some of the nastiest ways people have been executed.
Throughout history, humanity has seen penalties for crime that have varied between brutal, bizarre, and downright disturbing. Here’s just a few of the nastiest execution methods the world has seen.
Capital punishment is still popular in a lot of the world – even though here in Britain we outlawed it completely in 1998 (so not all that long ago really) – but these days lots of places try to make it as humane as possible. This wasn’t the case back in the day, when execution methods tended to be more about pain than punishment. And this isn’t about all the beheading, hanging, stoning sorts of executions. These are a ton more creative.
Top of the list is ‘scaphism’, also known somewhat ominously as ‘the boats’. The unfortunate victim would be strapped into a hollow tree trunk and force-fed milk and honey until they inevitably lost all control of their bowels. At some point during the process they’d also be coated in honey. This was to attract insects which would start chomping away…
That’s a pretty awful way to die – covered in your own poo, being munched on by bugs. Although this was a well-known execution method in Persia, there aren’t many specific recorded cases, although one was found in the records of Plutarch. Luckily for most criminals, this hasn’t really been used since about 500 BC.
Moving forward in time, we have the lovely traditions of Ancient China. The ‘death of a thousand cuts’ is pretty awful – executioners would be rewarded for keeping their victims alive (and conscious) for as long as possible while they very slowly cut bits of them off. This wasn’t abolished until 1905. The well-known execution method of having the victim lay down on fast growing bamboo until it grows right through them is probably a myth. Probably.
Of course, some methods of execution were literally just for the sake of public spectacle. Vlad the Impaler is often mentioned here. Apparently he enjoyed having lunch surrounded by the impaled corpses of people who’d irritated him. Most people would have been put right off their food, but not Vlad. I hope the bodies were at least some distance away, though, as you wouldn’t have wanted them getting smelly. Or… drippy.
Saving the best (or worst) for last, we have the Brazen Bull. Vlad the Impaler may have enjoyed the aesthetics of shoving sharp sticks up peoples’ bums, but the Brazen Bull is probably the only execution method designed for the sole purpose of being entertaining. The unfortunate criminal would be trapped inside the bull, and a fire lit underneath. The person inside would slowly roast to death, and thanks to some engineering, their screams would be transformed into bellowing bull noises, and smoke would pour out of the bull’s nose. Fun for all the family. It was first invented in Ancient Greece, and according to many accounts, its inventor was also its first victim.
Of course, there are tons of ways executions have been carried out – everything you can think of and probably a few you can’t. Criminals or not, I think everyone’s glad that certain practices aren’t around these days.
Photo: Der Vollstrecker (via flickr)
This article is part of Planet Ivy’s Crime & Punishment Week. For other articles from this week see below: