Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by judicial process as a punishment for an offence. Execution of criminals and political opponents has been used by nearly all societies—both to punish crime and to suppress political dissent. We have previously seen 10 most torturous methods of execution, and now we have the 10 unusual methods for it ever used.
The pendulum was an instrument of capital punishment used by the Spanish Inquisition. Although invented to cause maximum pain before death, the pendulum was also used to induce psychological fear into the victim, thereby extracting a quick confession. The victim was first secured to a wooden bench with ropes so that it was impossible for him to move. Above the victim was a crescent-shaped blade which would begin swinging to and from. Gradually the bar to which the blade was attached would be lowered bringing it closer and closer to the victim’s abdomen. It would usually be at this point that the victim would confess. If no confession was made, the blade would continue to lower until it began cutting through the victim’s torso. Eventually, the victim would be cleaved in two.
Immurement is a form of capital punishment where a person is walled up within a building and left to die from starvation or dehydration. This is distinct from being buried alive, in which the victim typically dies of asphyxiation. The folklore of many Southeastern European peoples refers to immurement as the mode of death for the victim sacrificed during the completion of a construction project, such as a bridge or fortress. Many Bulgarian and Romanian folk songs describe a bride offered for such purposes, and her subsequent pleas to the builders to leave her hands and breasts free, that she might still nurse her child. Later versions of the songs revise the bride’s death; her fate to languish, entombed in the stones of the construction, is transmuted to her nonphysical shadow, and its loss yet leads to her pining away and eventual death.
Lapidation, is a form of capital punishment whereby a group throws stones at a person until the person dies. No individual among the group can be identified as the one who kills the subject. This is in contrast to the case of a judicial executioner. It is slower than other forms of execution, and hence is a form of execution by torture.
7. Breaking Back
A form of capital punishment was merely to break the back of the criminal and leave him to die of thirst. It was a Mongolian method of execution that avoided the spilling of blood on the ground.
6. Iron Maiden
An Iron Maiden is an iron cabinet constructed to kill or torture the condemned. The iron cabinet was built with sharp objects like spikes, knives or nails inside of it. An individual was placed inside standing and the doors of the cabinet were closed repeatedly forcing bleeding and punctures until death due to blood loss or lack of oxygen should lungs be punctured. This form of capital punishment was used throughout the 18th Century in England.
5. Execution by Elephant
Execution by elephant was, for thousands of years, a common method of capital punishment in South and Southeast Asia, and particularly in India. Asian Elephants were used to crush, dismember, or torture captives in public executions. The animals were trained and versatile, both able to kill victims immediately or to torture them slowly over a prolonged period. Employed by royalty, the elephants were used to signify both the ruler’s absolute power and his ability to control wild animals. The sight of elephants executing captives attracted the interest of usually horrified European travellers, and was recorded in numerous contemporary journals and accounts of life in Asia. The practice was eventually suppressed by the European empires that colonised the region in the 18th and 19th centuries. While primarily confined to Asia, the practice was occasionally adopted by Western powers, such as Rome and Carthage, particularly to deal with mutinous soldiers.
4. Damnatio ad bestias
Damnatio ad bestias was a form of capital punishment in which the condemned were maimed on the circus arena or thrown to a cage with animals, usually lions. It was brought to ancient Rome around the 2nd century BC from Asia, where a similar penalty existed from at least the 6th century BC. In Rome, damnatio ad bestias was used as entertainment and was part of the inaugural games of the Flavian Amphitheatre. In the 1st–3rd centuries AD, this penalty was mainly applied to the worst criminals and early Christians (Latin: christianos ad leones, “Christians to the lions”). It was abolished in 681 AD.
3. The Boats
The boats, aka scaphism was an ancient Persian method of execution designed to inflict torturous death. The intended victim was stripped naked and then firmly fastened within a face-to-face pair of narrow rowing boats (or hollowed-out tree trunks), with the head, hands and feet protruding. The condemned was forced to ingest milk and honey to the point of developing severe diarrhea, and more honey would be rubbed on his body to attract insects to the exposed appendages. He would then be left to float on a stagnant pond or be exposed to the sun. The defenseless individual’s feces accumulated within the container, attracting more insects, which would eat and breed within his exposed flesh, which—pursuant to interruption of the blood supply by burrowing insects—became increasingly gangrenous. The feeding would be repeated each day in some cases to prolong the torture, so that dehydration or starvation did not kill him. Death, when it eventually occurred, was probably due to a combination of dehydration, starvation and septic shock. Delirium would typically set in after a few days.
Sawing was a method of execution used in Europe under the Roman Empire, in the Middle East, and in parts of Asia. The condemned were hung upside-down and sawn apart vertically through the middle, starting at the groin. Since the the body was inverted, the brain received a continuous supply of blood despite severe bleeding, consciousness thereby continuing until, or after, the saw severed the major blood vessels of the abdomen. The movement of the saw caused a body to sway back and forth making the process difficult for the executioners. The Chinese overcame this problem by securing the victim in an upright position between two boards firmly fixed between stakes driven deep into the ground. Two executioners, one at each end of the saw, would saw downwards through the stabilized boards and enclosed victim.
1. Brazen Bull
Brazen Bull or the Sicilian Bull is a execution device designed in ancient Greece. Perillos of Athens, a brass-founder, proposed to Phalaris, the tyrant of Akragas, Sicily, the invention of a new means for executing criminals. Accordingly, he cast a bull, made entirely of brass, hollow, with a door in the side. 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. The bull was designed in such a way that its smoke rose in spicy clouds of incense. The head of the ox was designed with a complex system of tubes and stops so that the prisoner’s screams were converted into sounds like the bellowing of an infuriated bull. Perillos said to Phalaris: “[His screams] will come to you through the pipes as the tenderest, most pathetic, most melodious of bellowings.” Disgusted by these words, Phalaris ordered its horn sound system to be tested on Perillos himself. When Perillos entered, he was immediately locked in, and the fire was set, so that Phalaris could hear the sound of his screams. Before Perillos could die, Phalaris opened the door and took him away. Perillos believed he would receive a reward for his invention; instead, after freeing him from the bull, Phalaris threw him from the top of a hill, killing him. Phalaris himself is said to have been killed in the brazen bull when he was overthrown by Telemachus, the ancestor of Theron. It is also said that when the bull was reopened, the scorched bones of the remains shone like jewels and were made into bracelets.