It’s a very common knowledge that people in middle ages had a knack for cruelty. And that insane cruelty (with which you’re probably acquainted by now, thanks to GoT) generally came out in its full glory while punishing people for the crimes they have committed and even for the ones they were just accused of !
Only last night I was watching the Outlander series, and in one particular episode, our protagonist was accused of practicing witchcraft. Practically even before her trial started (in the episode I mean) the way people were demanding that she be burnt speaks volumes about how bloodthirsty even a lowly peasant was.
They were often punished in these horribly brutal 13 methods.
Nailing (or tying) people to a wooden cross and then leaving them out in the open, both for people to see and to die a slow and agonising death was a very famous practice in the middle ages, as is evident from the story of crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The ‘best’ part of crucifixion was the terror it generated among its witnesses, leaving them mentally too crippled to commit any crime or go against the authorities.
2. Using rats to kill people
Torturing or killing people using rats still remains a favourite method among people, but in early times it was more so. There was a thing called rat trap where a rat would be put inside a cage. The bottomless cage would be placed on a convict’s body (torso, generally) and the other side of the cage would be heated. The poor rat, finding the other side blocked by the heat, would slowly eat away the victim’s flesh to make way for itself.
3. The brazen bull
Designed by the ancient greeks, this method was also called the Sicilian bull, as it was invented in Sicily. This was a device made of bronze, in the shape and size of an actual bull. The condemned person would be locked inside and fire would be set beneath the bull, heating the bronze till the person inside got roasted to death. This device also had such systems that converted screams of the condemned into the bellows of a bull.
Flaying means skinning, literally. Only instead of dead animals, humans were often punished or tortured in the early ages by being skinned alive. Depending on the amount of skin removed, they either died or lived a life of a mentally scarred cripple. This method of torture was pretty famous in Mesopotamia. Similarly, people were also punished by getting chunks of flesh removed from their body. Shylock didn’t make a demand out of the blue after all.
5. The breaking wheel
Another classical mode of executing capital punishment was by using the breaking wheel. This extremely simple device consisted of a wheel, to which the convicted would be tied, and sometimes of spikes. The convicted would have his limbs beaten with a club or a cudgel, and with the turning of the wheel, the bones in his body would slowly break, leading to an excruciatingly painful death.
Impalement by pike, pole, spear, hook or stake was not only fairly common, it was also popular during the middle ages. Especially people convicted for treason or ‘crimes against the state’ would be punished like this. And people did invent many devices to execute this method of punishment. Different orifices of the body would be penetrated for different crimes in this gruesome method though all of those eventually led to a very painful death.
7. Crushed under an elephant
Capital punishment by the convict’s head being crushed under an elephant was a very popular method in ancient India, and also in other parts of South East Asia. Elephants were trained to kill their victims immediately or to torture them slowly over a period of time in this public spectacle. Sometimes (believe me, rarely) the elephants were made to just dismember the convict and not completely kill him.
8. Raped by wild animal to death
In the ancient Roman empire, people loved a good show. And nothing makes a better show than seeing animals mauling people to death. Especially if it happened to be a woman, then she would be raped by ‘specifically’ trained wild animals, till she succumbed to death, like poor Locusta’s fate made her endure.
9. Sawed in half
It means the same, that people were often given capital punishment by being sawed in halves. This method of execution was used in different parts of the world like the Roman Empire, Spain, and in parts of Asia. Another similar kind of punishment was disembowelment, where the organs would be taken out of a living person, gradually leading him to death.
10. Death by boiling
People in the early ages loved playing with their meat, or their convicted. And naturally, boiling the convicted in oil or water till the person died was an in thing. Though it was not as popular as other methods, as no direct show of blood was involved, it still had its own audience in Europe and Asia.
11. Punished by the rack
The rack was a very popular torture device made of a wooden rectangular frame. The limbs of the convicted would be attached to four sides with chains, and with the help of pullies and rollers they would be stretched till they either got torn from the body or became ineffective. It was mostly used while exhorting confessions or information.
12. Cropping of ears
As it was described in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, this particular punishment was executing by cropping the ears of people. And sometimes, if the crime was not too grave, their ears would simply be nailed to the pillory for some time. In most cases, this punishment didn’t kill the convicted, save the cases where they died because of later infection of the wound.
13. Burning at the stake
People in early ages loved a good fire, and what better ways to light a fire than to burn a person at the stake? This one of the most favourite modes of punishing people accused of treason or witchcraft, as it made a grand spectacle and also warned people against committing such crimes.