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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Medivial Torture (Part 1) - Methods

by Yona Williams

From Roman Emperor Hadrian to the ancient Greeks, heat played an important role in their methods of torture. In this article, you will not only learn about Heat Torture, but you'll also learn of two other ways that people in the past would punish their criminals and suspects.


When it comes to slow and painful deaths of the past, exposure is certainly at the top of the list. A popular form of torture during early medieval times, heretics and witches were fastened to the ground with iron nails. Their clothes were removed so that they remained naked while their legs and arms were spread out.

The sun would then beat down on their body, causing strong sunburns on the skin. However, this was not the only component of the torture, as wild animals also played a role. They would eat the victim while they were still alive, which caused varying levels of pain. A large animal meant that their death was quicker, while smaller animals only made the torture last longer.

Breast Ripper

In the past, women who were caught sleeping with another man could face the 'Breast Ripper,' which was designed to rip open the breasts, which often caused infections and eventually death within a couple of months. Women who were lucky to survive the torture were never quite the same. Popular during the Dark Ages, this form of torture was mainly used in the Inquisition.

Heat Torture

In what is now known as Greece, people living in ancient Turkey were subjected to a highly painful (as well as humiliating) form of punishment called Heat Torture – sometimes referred to as the Brazen Bull. Once an individual was convicted of a crime (and many times they were innocent), he or she was locked inside of a brass coffin, yet the feet were still fixed to the ground. At times, they were held in place with ropes, while other times, nails were used.

If you think this is the only part of the torture – it gets worse. The coffin was then placed vertically on top of a fire where it was left for hours until the brass became red with hotness.

This form of torture was most popular during ancient Greece, and was mentioned in writings of historians such as Herodotus. As time passed, Heat Torture became increasingly painful and started to be seen as amusement for onlookers. Torturers even outfitted the coffin with tubes to create different sounds from the screams of the victim. One of the sounds resembled that of an angry ox. The Brazen Bull became a favorite for certain rulers, including the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who would burn entire families using the device.


Vlad the Impaler is responsible for impaling thousands of people. Since Vlad was known as a hero and decent ruler, the intensity of his punishments created an infamous persona that all feared. For instance, if a thief was accused of stealing bread – he was impaled even if the crime seemed simple. To strike fear into his opponents, he would impale thousands of soldiers that had been captured – just to make a point.

Impaling involved a stick that was positioned into the ground. With hands tied to prevent escape, the victim was placed upon the stick without their feet being able to touch the ground. Hours would pass and in some cases, days, before the strength and weight of the victim would cause the stick to pierce a major organ.

This method of torture was considered one of the worst and was quite common during the Dark Ages. Most commonly, impalement involved the anus, but many other variations were employed. Vlad preferred using the chest, legs, arms, and the skulls. He was known to take pleasure in the decorative qualities of impalement by choosing different body parts.

To add insult to injury, Vlad imposed extremely cruel ways of punishing his victims. For instance, he impaled children in front of their mothers and forced them to eat their remains. Sometimes, he would enjoy his own feast while watching victims being impaled as entertainment. Impalement certainly added to the practice of calling Vlad – Dracula – a bloodthirsty man.


In the majority of ancient cultures, the whip was a torture device feared for many centuries – used by the likes of Egyptians to the French. A lot of civilizations have used the whip to strike fear into the hearts of slaves, but in some countries, such as the Netherlands – they used it on different specific groups. In their case, it was children who received this kind of punishment. It was said that the practice would create better executioners in the future. This is one form of punishment that has survived over the years and can still be seen used in foreign countries to this day.

Dunk Stool

You'll never look at a stool the same after hearing about the dunk stool method of torture. When the fear of witches began to spread, people needed to find new and inventive ways to make the accused confess their heresy and evil ways. The dunk stool was a simple chair that was tied to a tree or a stick. On and off, the victim was submerged in a pond or river. In the beginning of the punishment, they would stay under the water for less than a minute. However, if they had nothing to reveal or kept denying their charges, they were meant to stay in the water for longer periods of time – up to two minutes or more. Eventually, the victim would drown.

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