These 16 most brutal ways people were sentenced to death are just some of the ways people have been executed throughout our history.
If humanity put as much energy into other things as they do coming up with creative ways to kill people, we would probably be living on Mars by now.
Historically speaking, the harshest ways people were sentenced to death were reserved for the most heinous crimes, such as regicide, treason, and parenticide. During different time periods, other crimes have been included, like witchcraft or poisoning. It is interesting to note which crimes deserved these punishments in different societies, as it could tell a lot about the society and what they felt was the greatest threat to them. I’m sure there are people in these 10 States with Death Penalty and That Use It the Most that would be all for returning of some of these methods.
These brutal punishments weren’t implemented on just criminals. The other group of people often subjected to them were prisoners of war. However counterproductive it seems, since it just served to strengthen the opponents resolve, ancient (and not so ancient, judging by the history of the 20th century) generals loved to crucify, boil, flay, impale and otherwise mutilate and kill the captured enemies. Which begs the question of who in their right mind would surrender to such people? What was going through the mind of a Turkish soldier surrendering to Vlad the Impaler knowing they would end up as grotesque garden ornaments on sticks in front of his castle?
One aspect of these brutal ways people were sentenced to death that’s often overlooked is the people who actually performed the deed. The executioners were usually shunned by the society, for the obvious reasons. In the Ottoman empire, only Roma or Gypsies could be executioners and in France, the craft was often confined to several families, who regularly produced hangmen for the French justice system.
In order to create the list of most brutal ways people were sentenced to death, we consulted several sites, but the most helpful were historians (History Rundown) and medical professionals (Medical Daily), which makes logical sense. At this point, we would usually say enjoy the slideshow, but somehow it doesn’t feel right, so we will forego it this time.
Using a saw to kill people is often disputed by the historians, although stories about it are present in many cultures. The most common method described included a victim suspended upside down, a large saw, and two eager executioners. Death usually occurred because of extreme loss of blood or shock. By beginning the cut at person’s scrotum, executioners stayed away from any vital organs, thus prolonging the agony.
The original crucifixion, used by the Ancient Greeks and Romans, didn’t involve the actual cross. The wooden construction used was more in a T shape and often a simple plank was used. It was only later, after the most famous crucifixion in history that Christians started using a cross as their symbol. A particularly interesting detail about this method of execution was the fact that a sign of mercy was breaking victim’s legs, so they couldn’t support themselves and would die much faster. Without it, they could linger in pain for days.
We are continuing our list of most brutal ways people were sentenced to death with boiling that, in English law, was reserved for murderers who used poison to kill their victims. In Scotland, one especially unlucky sheriff was boiled to death by local nobles, who each took a spoonful of the resulting soup. Unfortunately, nobody recorded their impressions on the taste. The Japanese also used this method in the 16th century, but probably the most recent boiling allegedly happened in Uzbekistan in 2004, according to the Human Rights Watch.
13. The Catherine Wheel
Also known as the breaking wheel, this one, as well as other most brutal ways people were sentenced to death, was a method of execution was widely used in medieval Europe. The last known instance of using it was in 1841 in Prussia. This method of capital punishment was considered handy since it didn’t necessarily kill its victims unless executioners wanted to. That is why it often doubled as a torture method.
We already mentioned Vlad the Impaler, a Transylvanian prince who enjoyed performing this brutal method of execution on captured Turkish soldiers. The Chinese also used impalement, although with a slight twist. They would position the victim above a young bamboo tree, which is known to grow as much as several inches a day, then sit around, drink some tea, and wait. The plausibility of this method was proven in an episode of MythBusters in 2008.
The House Bolton specialty from Game of Thrones had to find its place on our list of most brutal ways people were sentenced to death. Imagine all your nerve centers experiencing pain at the same time and you’ll get the idea just how painful flaying really was. Death usually occurred after few hours or up to few days in rare cases.
10. Rat Torture
Another method immortalized in Game of Thrones. A rat (or rats) was placed on victim’s stomach and metal container was placed over it. The bottom of the container was then heated until rat had enough and decides to escape the only way it can, by digging its way through the body. It wasn’t unusual for the rat to break through the other side while the victim was still alive.
9. Brazen Bull
The Brazen Bull was a device imagined by Phalaris, ruler of Acragas, one of the Greek city-states on Sicily. It was a bronze hollow statue of a bull, with various tubes placed inside its head. The victim was locked inside the bull and a fire was lit underneath. As the temperature rose, the victims’ screams were magnified by the tubes, making it sound like a raging bull. Phalaris ordered Perillos to construct the bull but was so disgusted by Perillos’ enthusiasm that he tested the device on him. In a classic karma move, Phalaris met his doom inside the bull when he was overthrown by Telemachus a few years later. Let’s see what horrors are waiting for us next on the list of most brutal ways people were sentenced to death.
8. Poena cullei (penalty of the sack)
Poena cullei in Roman law was reserved for parricide. The criminal was placed inside the leather sack, together with several animals, like cocks, monkeys, dogs, cats, or even snakes. The sack was sewn up air tight and thrown in a river. As oxygen was running out, animals would panic, inflicting grievous (and very painful) injuries to the victim. The punishment was revived in medieval Germany, but instead of leather, a linen sack was used, leading to the victim quickly drowning.
7. Live burial
According to Tacitus, Ancient Germans used live burial as a punishment for shameful acts, like cowardice in battle. A victim would be tied to a wooden frame and buried alive in mud, face down, thus hiding the shame. In Denmark, live burial, one of the most brutal ways people were sentenced to death, was a punishment for an adulterous wife (adulterous husbands were simply beheaded). Interestingly enough, in Medieval Europe live burial was usually reserved for female criminals, ranging from thieves to murders, especially infanticide. Their male counterparts were usually beheaded or simply hanged.
6. Suffocation in ash
There are several methods of execution that used suffocation, but we picked this one mainly for its brutality. The first recorded victim of suffocation in ash was a Persian nobleman Sogdianus, in the fifth century. He was sentenced to death for the murder of his half-brother, King Xerxes II. A room was filled with ash and Sogdanus was thrown into it. Specially designed wheels kept ash whirling around, slowly filling his lungs as kept inhaling the fine particles and eventually suffocating him. In the 15th century, Aztec rulers used suffocation in ash as a punishment for homosexual relationships.
Burning was a pretty common andd one of the most brutal ways people were sentenced to death. It was usually reserved got heretics and witches in Christian countries. A victim would be tied to a stake, with piles of wood beneath, which would be then set on fire. North American natives used a slightly different method, called roasting over a slow fire, widely popularized in Western novels.
4. Death by a thousand cuts (Lingchi)
Death by a thousand cuts or lingchi was reserved only for the most heinous of crimes in China. It was performed with a very sharp knife, which was used to slice and remove parts of victim’s body. Lingchi masters prided themselves in being able to keep their victims alive for days, thus prolonging their agony. It was usually performed in a public place. Another level of punishment was that, according to Buddhist teachings, a person missing part or parts of their body wouldn’t be whole in the afterlife.
Third place on our list of most brutal ways people were sentenced to death goes to Gibbeting that was used when the authorities wanted to send a strong and clear message to the people. This form of public execution was reserved for the most hardened criminals, like pirates. It was first mentioned in the Old Testament. There were several methods of gibbeting. One included a metal cage, prominently displayed. The other, called hanging in chains, saw its victims bound in chains and left hanging. This method was used on Captain Kidd, a notorious pirate captain. In some cases, bodies were left on display long after the victims died of thirst and were reduced to mere bones, which were then scattered without a proper burial, adding yet another punishment to the victims.
2. Blood eagle
It is hard to fathom today’s Scandinavians as direct descendants of fearsome Vikings, who ravage half of Europe during their reign of terror in early Middle Ages. One of their most gruesome methods of execution was Blood Eagle. There are only a few recorded instances of this sentence ever carried as it was apparently too brutal even by Viking’s standards. Part execution, part sacrifice to bloodthirsty Odin, the sentence consisted of carefully separating victim’s ribs from his spine and pulling his lungs outside, forming an illusion of wings, which gave it its name. The victim usually died on the spot, which is actually merciful compared to some death sentences on the list.
It is debatable whether scaphism is one of the most brutal ways people were sentenced to death, but it is certainly one of the most imaginative ones. Scaphism was invented and practiced by Persians. Due to its elaborate nature, it was probably reserved only acts of high treason against the throne. It involved placing the victim inside two boats, fastened one on top of the other. Sometimes hollowed logs were used. Victims’ heads and limbs were protruding from the contraption and they were fed with honey and milk. Then they were placed into a stagnant pool of water and a generous amount of honey was poured over them. The mixture of milk, honey, and their own feces quickly attracted insects, who fed on the victim, burrowing into their body or entering through body cavities and laying eggs. Each day, they were fed again in order to prolong the suffering. According to Plutarch, one victim lasted for 17 days. The KGB developed their own version of torture based on scaphism: closing the naked victim into a wooden box filled with bedbugs.