The Medieval period has to be one of the cruelest junctures in human history. This period of human history witnessed some of the most ingeniously sadistic forms of torture ever imposed on humankind. Here are 24 of the most brutal torture techniques ever devised to help you appreciate living in the 21st century.
This method was very popular at the Tower of London during the Elizabethan era. Several rats were placed on top of the victim’s abdomen, then a bucket was subsequently placed over the pests. A flame was then placed on top of the bucket, making it very hot. The rats’ natural instincts kick in, and they try to get as far away from the heat source as possible…by digging downward.
The Pear of Anguish
Another Middle Age favorite, the pear of anguish was generally used to punish homosexuals, adulterers, and women who had had abortions. The pear was placed either vaginally (or rectally for men) closed, and then was twisted open. As it twisted, it split into four prongs with sharp ends, which proceeded to rip the insides of the victims. The pear was also used for liars and thieves and could be placed in the jaw, subsequently resulting in breaking the victim’s jaw.
The crocodile shears was an instrument of torture used in late medieval Europe and typically reserved for regicides – those who attempted (and, perhaps, succeeded) to assassinate the king. The shears were made of iron and were based upon the concept of pincers, but—instead of standard jaws or blades, crocodile shears ended in a pair of hemicylindrical blades that, when closed together, formed a long, narrow tube. The insides of the blades were generously lined with teeth or spikes. After being heated red-hot, the crocodile shears were applied to the erect penis, which—once exposed to sufficient tension—was torn from the prisoner’s body; or at the very least leading to severe arterial bleeding.
This method of pillory was used generally for drunkards to embarrass them publicly. This was the medieval very timid version of a version of torture the ancient Persian (who were VERY good at torture, by the way) technique called “Scaphism”. The victim was stripped naked then fastened in a tub, or a rowing boat. The victim was then forced to eat tons of milk and honey, as well as having it rubbed all over his or her face. They would then get diarrhea from the food. In the tub, they would then be swimming in their own filth. Along with this, the milk and honey on their faces would attract flies and other insects which would slowly eat the victim alive, wallowing in their own filth.
The Scavenger’s Daughter was invented as an instrument of torture in the reign of Henry VIII by Sir William Skevington (also known as William Skeffington), Lieutenant of the Tower of London. It was an A-frame shaped metal rack to which the head was strapped to the top point of the A, the hands at the mid-point and the legs at the lower spread ends; swinging the head down and forcing the knees up in a sitting position so compressed the body as to force the blood from the nose and ears. The Scavenger’s Daughter was conceived as the perfect complement to the Duke of Exeter’s Daughter (the rack) because it worked the opposite principle to the rack by compressing the body rather than stretching it.
This began in the Medieval inquisition. Generally, the hands were tied behind the victim’s back, and they were then lifted by an overhanging pulley. This more than likely caused the victim’s arms to pull out of their sockets. They would sometimes jerk the ropes up and down for added pain, and weights would also be added to the ankles occasionally.
This procedure has remained essentially unchanged from the Middle Ages until today. The victim is hoisted up and lowered onto the point of the pyramid in such a way that his weight rests on the point positioned in the anus, in the vagina, under the scrotum or under the coccyx (the last two or three vertebrae). The executioner, according to the pleasure of the interrogators, can vary the pressure from zero to that of total body weight. The victim can be rocked, or made to fall repeatedly onto the point. The Judas cradle was thus called also in Italian (culla di Giuda) and German (Judaswiege), but in French it was known as la veille, “the wake” or “nightwatch”. Nowadays this method enjoys the favour of not a few governments in Latin America and elsewhere, with and without improvements like electrified waist rings and pyramid points. Similar to the Judas Chair – but probably worse, is the Spanish Donkey:
The Spanish Donkey or the “wooden horse”
A favorite of the Spanish Inquisition (BIG fans of suffering, the Spanish Inquisition), particularly for women offenders. However, this method was used as recently as EARLY COLONIAL AMERICA. The victim would ride the top of the wedge, which could also contain several spikes. Weights were generally placed on the ankles, to add to the pain. Death was rare unless spikes were added, so other tortures would continue after the wooden horse.
Ever wonder why those clamps at home depot are called “THUMB screws?” Well there was a reason. These popular devices from the Middle Ages were used by placing the victim’s thumbs and other fingers, which were then tightened, slowly crushing the victim’s fingers. This was a method of confession and could last for days. A similar version was used for the knees and head.
The Wheel, or the “Breaking Wheel”
Though this device is simplistic and initially appears very mild, the truth is far from such. A popular method was simply strapping the victim’s appendages to respective posts and have them hang at unusual angles. Sometimes fire was set below the wheel for added pain, or the wheel might be made to swing, putting tremendous stress on the hanging victims. This method is often likened to Jesus Christ’s crucifixion in terms of brutality.
The lead sprinkler was essentially a ladle on the end of a handle. The top half of the sphere could be removed and the lower half was filled with molten metal, boiling oil, boiling water, pitch or tar. The perforated top half was then re-attached. Shaking or flicking the sprinkler towards the victim showered him or her with the boiling contents of the ladle. The victim had, of course, been pinioned in advance.
This item was used both as a punitive and an interrogational device. Punitively, it was used red-hot to mark the breast of unmarried mothers. In an inquisitory nature it was used on condemned women – convicted of heresy, blasphemy, adultery, self-induced abortion, erotic white magic and any other crime that the inquisitors selected. The claws were used, either cold or heated, on a female’s exposed breasts – rendering them into bloody pulps. A variation was called the Spider. This consisted of clawed bars which protruded from the wall. A woman was pulled alongside the bars until her breasts were torn away.
A popular torture device during the Inquisition, the knee splitter does what it says: split victims’ knees and render them useless. Built from two spiked wood blocks, the knee splitter is placed on top of and behind the knee of its victims. Two large screws connecting the blocks are then turned, causing the two blocks to close towards each other and effectively destroy a victim’s knee. This device could also be used to inflict damage on other parts of the body such as the arms.
The Saw Torture
The saw torture was a big favorite during the middle ages, primarily because it was easily accessible. With just a few posts, some rope and a saw you could inflict a significant amount of pain to a person with minimal effort. It was considered a “cheap” way to kill people accused of things like witchery, adultery, or blasphemy. The main reason the person was tied upside-down was that it forced blood to rush to the brain, making you bleed out slower, so the torture could last longer. If done correctly, the person wouldn’t die until the saw reached all the way to the naval.
With the head placed under the upper cap and the chin placed above the bottom bar, the top screw of this awful device was slowly turned, compressing the skull tightly. First the teeth are destroyed, shattering and splintering into the jaw. Then the eyes are squeezed from the sockets – some versions had special receptacles to catch them. Lastly, the skull fractures and the contents of the head are forced out. In earlier stages, the torturer could keep the head firmly clamped and strike the metal skull cap periodically; each blow echoing pain throughout the victim’s body.
The Spanish Tickler
It’s a very simple instrument that was used to tear a victim’s skin apart. Due to its shape, neither bones nor muscles were spared. The victim was naked and tied making him or her completely defenseless. Then the torturers began the (sometimes public) act of mutilating the victim. They often began with the limbs and slowly moved into the chest, back, neck and finally the face.
The Brazen Bull
The condemned were shut in the bull and a fire was set under it, heating the metal until it became yellow hot and causing the person inside to roast to death.
This torture device consisted of a metal piece with two opposed bi-pronged forks attached to a belt or strap. One end of the device was pushed under the chin, the other to the sternum, and the strap was used to secure the victim’s neck to the tool while the victim hung from the ceiling or was somehow suspended so that they could not sleep. If their heads dropped, the prongs would pierce their throat and chest.
The Crocodile Tube
The victim was fixed inside a tube just big enough for the victim’s entrance. The tube, having crocodile teeth-like spikes, was slowly compressed leaving the victim totally immobilized. The torturer could only see his face and feet. With the help of carbon and fire underneath the tube, the torturer gradually heated the tube until he extracted a confession or killed the victim.
The Spanish Chair
There are many variants of the chair. They all have one thing in common: spikes cover the back, arm-rests, seat, leg-rests and foot-rests. The number of spikes in one of these chairs ranges from 500 to 1,500. To avoid movement, the victim’s wrists were tied to the chair or, in one version, two bars pushed the arms against arm-rests for the spikes to penetrate the flesh even further. In some versions, there were holes under the chair’s bottom where the torturer placed coal to cause severe burns while the victim still remained conscious.
The rack is a contraption designed to dislocate every single joint in its victim’s body. Tied across the device’s board by the ankles and wrists, the victim’s body is then pulled in opposite directions by turning rollers at either end of the board. Great way of relieving a bad back, if you ask me. Of course, the subsequent pain caused by the multiple dislocations is another story.
In one version of the Flaying Torture, the victim’s arms were tied to a pole above his head while his feet were tied below. His body was now completely exposed and the torturer, with the help of a small knife, peeled off the victim’s skin slowly. In most cases, the torturer peeled off his facial skin first, slowly working his way down to the victim’s feet. Most victims died before the torturer even reached their waist.
This torture device consisted of an iron cabinet with a hinged front and spike-covered interior, sufficient enough to enclose a human being. Once inside its conical frame, the victim would be unable to move due to the great number of steel spikes impaling them from every direction. The interrogator would scream questions at the victim while poking them with jagged edges.
Hanged, Drawn, and Quartered
During medieval times, the penalty for high treason in England was to be hanged, drawn and quartered in public and though it was abolished in 1814, it has been responsible for the death of thousands of people. In this torture technique, the victim is dragged in a wooden frame called a hurdle to the place of execution. They would then be hanged by the neck for a short period of time until they are near-death (hanged), followed by disembowelment and castration where the entrails and genitalia are burned in front of the victim (drawn). The victim would then be divided into four separate parts and beheaded (quartered).