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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Medivial Torture (Part 3) - Instruments

By Yona Williams

The Wheel

The wheel was a device comprised of a large piece of circular wood with spokes attached. Limbs were tied to the spokes and the wheel was slowly turned. Openings between the spokes allowed a torturer to hit the victim with an iron hammer to break bones. With broken bones, the victim was left to die on the wheel. If a victim was sentenced to die an extremely painful death, they were placed on a tall pole so that birds could finish off the body.

For small offenses, the victim was able to survive their torture, and would live to describe what they believed was the most painful torture device ever conceived. It was a torture method of choice to punish traitors, those against religion, homosexuals and spies.

Sometimes the wheel was used in conjunction with horses pulling the victim, which was pretty common. With feet tied with a rope, they were connected to a wild horse in a cage. Sometimes, the hands would be fastened to a wall. In some cases, using nails to imitate Jesus Christ created a religious meaning behind the torture. When the torturer was ready to begin, the horse would be ordered to ride at full speed. The victim's bones would eventually break. If the victim was a large sized man or very strong, it was not uncommon to see two or three horses used during the torture.

It's hard to believe, but the human body and skin could be very resistant to breakage. When the horses were ordered to run, they would move with all of their might and a victim could have their arms separated from the rest of their body.

Other victims were stretched on the wheel, as a torturer would turn a handle that caused their body to be increasingly pulled. In some cases, fire and nails attached to the floor were added to the torture equation.

The Rack

During medieval times in Britain, the rack was used between 1154 and 1485. It was a torture device that was rectangular in shape and usually comprised of a wooden frame, a roller, and a fixed bar. A victim had their legs fastened to the bar and their hands were tied to the movable bar. A torturer turned the handle, which caused the ropes to pull at the arms of the victim. In time, the victim's bones became dislocated with a loud crack, which caused the cartilage, ligaments, and bones to snap. If the contraption was turned even more, the limbs were completely ripped off in the end.

This form of torture was used to get confessions out of a person. If a victim refused to confess, the torturer would continue to stretch out the body. It was also a way to strike fear into the hearts of other victims, as they made them watch someone else going through the process. A group of people known in history to undergo this form of torture was many of the knights belonging to the Knights Templar – whose mission was to protect Pilgrims.

The Thumbscrew

During the Middle Ages, the Inquisition was notorious in torturing people using the thumbscrew method. It was their way of getting the intimate details out of an individual that they deemed important. A victim's hands were placed in a device and the torturer would slowly crush their fingers, which weren’t the only parts of the body subjected to pain. The device was also placed on toes and crushed in the same manner. Larger devices were also created to crush arms, knees, and even heads.

The Iron Maiden

Resembling a sarcophagus, the Iron Maiden was outfitted with tips inside the front door. When people were placed into the device, they died because the door was shut slowly to allow the tips to crush the person to death. A tube at the bottom enhanced the cruelty of the device as victims actually saw their own blood depart their body. You'd think that death would have come quickly, but in fact – it could take more than two days for them to succumb to the torture. With a history linked to Germany, it was thought that the device was strictly related to the Middle Ages, but it actually was invented a couple of centuries beforehand.

The Stocks

One of the most recognized methods of punishment (or torture) is the stocks – typically pictured in history books and seen in movies depicting the Middle Ages. The stocks were usually situated in a part of a town where the public easily had access to the sufferer. It was used as a humiliation tactic, where it was not uncommon for townsfolk to throw objects at an individual, such as rotten produce or rocks.

Victims placed their hands and feet into the open device, which is then closed onto the body. The number of days that a victim stayed in the stocks was determined by the severity of their crime. This could be days to weeks. The device was also used as a form of the death penalty, where a victim was left in the stocks until the sun and animals contributed to their end. The punishment was a sight to see and if anyone wanted to help the accused, they were also tortured by the same method.

Victims also had to deal with the people in town, who could be very cruel. A mild offense usually saw sentenced people endure hits to the face or urine being tossed at them. A more severe case led to harsher ridicule and bodily harm. Stoning was very common, which led to the death of some, while others were left with severe injuries. Cutting was another approach. Some villagers would take off body parts, such as a hand, in the most severe cases.


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