Exotic types of execution

Exotic types of execution
31.03.2017 admin

As we have already said, punishment of criminals must be severe. Enough so that the sight of the execution or even a passing mention of it would discourage anyone from repeating the offence. Compare two moral messages: “for this, you will be hanged” and “for this, you will be be flayed alive, then disembowelled, deprived of your left arm an right leg, and only then beheaded”.

In the simple and austere times of the Late Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period, people did not share modern notions of the value of human life nor other humanistic ideas. Life itself was hard. To make execution memorable as a horrible death, one had to excercise ingenuity.

And one did. People of the past were not particularly notable for their love towards their neighbours, and executions were generally viewed as an entertaining show. In a similar way modern viewers treat Hollywood actions movies with fisticuffs and explosions: some like them, others do not, but such movies are a norm and are never perceived as something inconguous.

Here we will make no attempt to classify methods of execution by age, cruelty, or culture. Northern and southern nations, Byzantine Emperors and Mongol Khans, Russian Tzars and European monarchs, – by all of them new pages have been added to the executioner’s handbook. Presented below are seven most exotic capital punishments of the past (our pick):

Brazen bull was a torture and execution device purportedly constructed in Akragas, Sicily, under the tyrant Phalaris. The invention is credited to  Perillos of Athens, who designed it in the shape of a bull for extra intimidation. The condemned were locked inside the device, and a fire was then set under it. The contraption possessed a special aesthetics: the bull emitted clouds of smoke from its nostrils (when water in the human body was vaporized) and bellowed furiously (these were the sounds the victim’s screams were converted to by a delicate system of pipes within the bull’s head). The legend has it the inventor himself was killed by tyrant in the brazen bull. But Phalaris was doomed with the same fate.

Going around the pole (standing stone, tree) – this method of execution was known in Rome, in Rus, among Vikings. The condemned had their stomach cut up and a length of their gut pulled out and nailed to a pole or tree. They were then forced to walk around that pole, until fully eviscerated. As is well known, human intestines reach up to twelve feet in length and can be extended up to about fifty. An unfortunate victim would die either of pain or of rapidly developing infection… Or flesh-eating ants would provide their assistance. Everything depended on the prisoner’s stamina. Saint Peter is rumored to have been eviscerated in this manner first, and only later, found to be still alive, crucified with his head downwards.

Poena cullei was practiced in the Roman Empire and later in its successor, Byzance. It was considered an ignoble death. A person would be sewn up in a large leather sack together with a whole menagerie: a serpent, a cock, a monkey, and a dog (it’s not quite clear while exactly this quartet of animals were used, perhaps they were relatively cheap and easy to obtain). The sack would be thrown into water and the entire company would drown in much pain. The envoy was simple: a person was symbolically made equal in status to these not especially noble animals.

Quicklime barrel was one among incredibly cruel Chinese execution method. A victim was tied up and placed into a barrel with a hole for head in the top. Throughout the first day they would suffer from enforced immobility. Then clay tiles would be removed from the bottom one by one. Deprived of support, the condemned would stand on their toes, then hang suspended by their chin. Quicklime at the bottom of the barrel would then be mixed with water. Several days later clay tiles would run out and the victim’s feet would touch caustic liquid that burned more painful than fire. A person died either of burns or of slow, torturing strangulation, as their neck was stretched under the body’s weight.

Lingchi, or “death by a thousand cuts”, was also known as wangua in China, though it was also practiced by oprichniki in Russia under Ivan the Terrible. The method was simple – a person was tied to a post or frame, the flesh was cut from the body one little slice at a time… until the victim died of pain shock or blood loss. However, the process could be prolonged by searing each wound with hot iron. In China, this method of execution was only banned in 1905, until which time it was effectively applied to criminals condemned for treason or parricide.

Blood eagle had the prone victim’s ribs carefully severed from the vertebral column, then manually turned inside out. Lungs were then pulled through the opening in the back to create a pair of “eagle’s wings”. Description of this procedure in Christian chronicles portrays ancient Vikings as terrible savages and sadists. In fact, it is not known for sure whether this kind of execution was considered disgraceful or honorable (physical prowess and indifference to pain was a prime virtue among Nordic seafarers). Medical professional doubt it existed at all, but so far there were no volunteers for empirical tests.

Death by salt – popular among Mongols were a simple and efficient method: a person was fed so much salt that their stomach would be destroyed from the inside. There was even a way to save the victim in case they offered something valuable to their tormentors, or the Khan had changed his mind. The condemned was simply given liquid animal fat which covered stomach walls and absorbed salt.

An executioner from which country would you like to see in the game, visiting Theodor Grimm for exchange of skills? Chinese, Persian, Russian, Byzantine?