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10 Most Cruel Execution Methods of All Time!

Throughout the history, people have devised a wide variety of ingeniously hideous methods of execution. Here is a quick rundown of 10 most cruel and hideous ways to die, originating in the darkest corners of the human history.

10.Death by a Thousand Cuts(Ling Chi)

Originally from China, this was one of the most brutal execution methods ever fashioned. It was in use roughly from the year 900, until it was banned in 1905. It was a punishment reserved only for the harshest of crimes, such as treason and fratricide. During this procedure, sharp knife was used to kill the criminal, gradually removing portions of his flesh over a long period of time.


Death by a thousand cuts(1910, Bibliothèque nationale de France)

The victim was tied to a wooden frame, usually in a public place.. The flesh was then sliced from the body, at first only from victim’s breasts and thigs. Then his limbs were gradually amputated, followed by ears, nose and genitals. After 10-20 minutes, victim was decapitated or stabbed to the heart. During the execution, opium was sometimes administered as an act of mercy.


Sawing in the half was an incredibly cruel execution method, used mostly in the Medieval Europe.

During the process, the criminal would be hung upside-down from a tree or gallows, and a large saw would be then used to slice his or her body in half, starting with the crotch, all the way to the chest and head. While some victims were cut completely in half, most of them were only sliced up to their abdomen, prolonging their agony.


Depiction of the execution by sawing(Germany, date unknown)

Because the victims were hung upside-down, the brain was receiving sufficient bloodflow to keep them alive and concious until the saw finally reached the main arteries in the abdomen. In extreme cases, the execution could last several hours


Execution by sawing in China(18.th century)

In the Chinese version of this execution method, the sawing would begin at the top of the head, with the victim standing upward, causing immediate death after few seconds.


The Crucifixion was an ancient execution method, in which the criminal’s hands and feet were bound or nailed to a wooden, cross-like structure. It was a capital punishment reserved for slaves, traitors, ”heretics”, and usually the worst of criminals. It became widespread during the reign of Alexander the Great, but it still remains in occasional use in some countries.


Crucifixion of Jesus(Pietro Perugino,1487)

There were various methods of performing the crucifixion. Usually, the prisoner had to drag the crossbeam of his cross, weighing around 100 pounds, to the place of execution. Subsequently, his outstretched arms were bound to the crossbeam, or sometimes nailed through the wrists, and the crossbeam was raised and fixed to the already standing upright post.

Death was usually caused by overall exhaustion or by heart failure. Sometimes, to shorten the victim’s suffering, his legs were shattered using an iron club, so that subsequent asphyxiation soon ended his life.


In execution by boiling, the criminal was stripped naked and then thrown into a cauldron full of boiling liquid, or cold liquid which was then heated to the point of boiling. Sometimes, the executioner controlled the speed of boiling by raising and lowering the victim to the cauldron using a system of ropes.


Boiling of Japanese bandit Goemon Ishikawa

The liquid used could be water, oil, tar, acid, wax, wine or even molten lead. While not as common as many previous methods of execution, in the past, boiling to death has been practised in many parts of Europe and Asia. Death was caused by severe scalding caused by the boiling liquid, gradually destroying the skin, fatty tissues, exposed muscles and eventually forming breaches in major arteries and veins.

An alternative to boiling was performed using a large shallow pan, containing boiling oil, tar or lead, effectively frying the person to death. During the reign of King Henry VIII, this was a punishment especially reserved for poisoners.

6.The Catherine Wheel

The Catherine wheel, also known as the Breaking wheel, was a medieval torture and execution device. The criminal was tied to a large cartwheel, with his arms and legs stretched out. The wheel was then slowly revolved while the executioner smashed his limbs with an iron hammer, heavy metal bar, or even using another cartwheel, breaking the bones in many places.

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Breaking wheel execution(Augsburg, 1586)

After the bone shattering process was complete, severed limbs of the person were woved between the wheel spokes. If a merciful execution had been ordered, after all the bones were shattered, fatal blow, known as blow of mercy(coup de grâce), was then delivered, breaking the person’s chest and neck and causing immediate death.

After the execution, the wheel was often placed on a tall pole so that birds could eat the body of the sometimes still-living criminal. If he survived the initial blows,it could take up to two or three days for him to die of shock and dehydration.


Impalement on a pole was one of the most gruesome methods of execution, often used during the Middle Ages. Criminal was be forced to sit on a thick, sharpened wooden pole. The pole was then slowly raised upright and the criminal was left to gradually slide further down the pole only by his or her own weight. The pole then emerged through victim’s chest, shoulder or neck. Sometimes, it could take more than three days for a person to finally die, in slow and painful way.


Woodcut depicting vertical impalement(Bordeaux, 1593)

Impalement was especially prevalent in 15.th century Romania, during the reign of Vlad Dracula, commonly known as Vlad the Impaler. He reportedly executed more than 80,000 people this way, and often enjoyed having a meal while watching them die.

In an East Asian variant of this execution method, victim was securely tied in place above a young bamboo shoot.Over the course of several days, the sharp, rapidly growing bamboo shoot would puncture and completely penetrate the victim’s body, eventually emerging throughthe other side. This method of execution was allegedly practised in 19.th century China and Malaysia, and even during the WWII by Japanese soldiers.


Skinning alive, also known as flaying, was one of the most gruesome execution methods ever conceived, especially prevalent during the classical antiquity. It was used mostly on captured soldiers and dangerous criminals.


Flaying of a corrupt judge(Italy, 1657)

The Aztecs of Mexico often flayed their war prisoners during ritual human sacrifices. There are also many indications of ancient Assyrians flaying the defeated rulers of their enemies and nailing their skin to the city walls, as a warning to all potential rebels.

In most used method of flaying, person’s hands were tied above his or her head, while the executioner gradually cut off all the skin using a very knife, starting at the face. Often, attempts were made to keep the skin intact. Another method involved severely burning the victim, and then gradually peeling his or her skin off.

In the year 415, Hypatia of Alexandria, famous female mathematician and philosopher, was allegedly flayed alive by a enraged Christian mob, using sharp oyster shells.

3.Rat Torture

Often known simply as ‘‘the Rat”, this was especially cruel and gruesome method of execution, originally used in the medieval China. Described as ”the most brutal torture technique ever devised”, it employed live rats eating through the victim’s flesh.


Rat torture(Torture Museum, Amsterdam)

At the beginning, large pottery bowl filled with a couple of rats was placed open side down on the naked prisoner’s body. Large amount of red-hot charcoal was then piled on the top of the bowl, gradually heating the air inside. Rats, terrified of the heat, then slowly gnawed their way outside through the victim’s flesh.

Only a small percentage of victims survived this gruesome procedure. Most of them died due to intense internal bleeding and septic shock from severely infected wounds.

2.Brazen Bull

The brazen bull, sometimes called sicilian bull, was a execution device designed by Perilaus of Athens in year 560 BC. The bull was hollow, crafted entirely from bronze, and it had a door in one side. The criminals were locked inside the bull, and a fire was set under the statue. The fire heated the metal until the criminal inside died from severe burns. The scorched bones were then often made into bracelets and sold at market.


Perilaus being forced into brazen bull that he made for Phalaris

The bull’s head was constructed with a system of tubes and pipes, to convert the screams of the prisoner to sounds similar to the bellowing of an infuriated bull. Perilaus once said; ”The horrendous screams will come to you through the tubes as the tendderest, most melodious, most pathetic of bellowings.”

Its inventor, blacksmith Perilaus of Athens, proposed the brazen bull to Phalaris, the tyrant of Agrigentum, Sicily, as a new means of executing criminals. However, after he showed him the bull, Phalaris, disgusted by the brutality of this invention, ordered to put Perilaus inside the bull and to roast him alive. By some reports, Phalaris himself eventually became a victim of the bull, after he was overthrown by Telemachus in 570.

1.The Boats

This incredibly cruel method of execution originates from the ancient Persia. Sometimes also called ”scaphism”, criminal was contained inside a pair of narrow rowboats (or in some variations in a large wooden tub), with his head, hands, and feet protruding outside from this container.

The person was then forced to ingest large amounts of milk and honey until developing a severe diarrhea, and mixture of milk and honey was also rubbed on the exposed parts of his body, attracting flies and other insect species. Then he was left afloat on a still pond or a lake.

The defenseless person’s fecal matter slowly accumulated within the container, attracting more flies, which ate and bred within his or her exposed and increasingly gangrenous flesh. Person was then repeatedly fed each day to prevent fatal dehydration and starvation, often prolonging the torture to several days or even weeks

Death, when it eventually occurred, was caused by a combination of various factors, most often bceause of septic shock, starvation or dehydration.



10 Most Cruel Torture Devices of All Time

Throughout the history, people have devised a wide variety of ingeniously hideous methods of torture as a form of punishment for crimes, or simply to extract information. Here is a quick rundown of 10 most cruel and hideous torture devices and methods to ever come out of the darkest corners of the human history.

10.Chinese Water Torture

Although not painful or destructive in nature, Chinese water torture is often deemed one of the most debilitating torture methods ever conceived. This type of torture was also often used by Spanish Inquisition, as one of the first ”humane” torture methods.

Victims were restrained to a wooden table, and cold or warm water was then dripped slowly onto their forehead, allegedly driving them insane. On a Mythbusters episode, this idea was tried out, and they found out that the combination of restrainment, cold water, and the uncertainty when the next drop will fall, could become maddening after just few hours. Victims could be easily driven insane as they soon started to perceive a hollow space being gradually formed at the center of their forehead.

9.The Judas Cradle

The Judas Cradle, also known as Judas chair, was a torture device invented in 16.th century Spain. During this torture, the criminal was first positioned in the waist harness above the sharp, pyramid-shaped seat. The point was then inserted into anus or vagina of the person, and then the person was slowly lowered by a system of ropes.


Medieval depiction of the Judas Cradle

The victims were usually naked, adding to the overall humiliation of the torture, and tortured by intense pressure and stretching of the orifice. Sometimes, various weights were tied to the legs, to dramatically increase the pain, and eventually tear muscular tissues of the orifice.

This torture could last from a few hours to several days. Device was never washed, so the torture could often lead to painful infection or even death.


The Thumbscrew was one of the most prevalent interrogatory torture devices of the Medieval Europe. It was a simple vice, with its crushing bars often lined with sharp metal tooth. It was used to slowly crush the victim’s thumbs or other fingers.



The crushing of the fingers was achieved by turning the handle on the top, slowly pushing its toothed crushing bars together. This torture method was primarily used to extract confessions from the prisoners, as it was both extremely painful and very lasting.

In the next stages of the torture, similar device, called ”the Boot” was often used to slowly crush the person’s feet.

7.Spanish Donkey

Similar to Judas’s Cradle, but much worse, spanish donkey(also known as wooden horse) was mostly used by the Spanish Inquisition during the Late Middle Ages. It was a sharply angled wooden device of triangular shape, pointing upward, mounted on a horse-leg like support poles.


Spanish donkey(wooden horse)

The naked victim was then made to sit on the the main board as if riding a horse, and various weights were attached to his or her feet, to increase the agony and prevent the victim from falling off.

According to historical sources, the wedge occassionally sliced entirely through the victim as a result of too much weight being attached to his or her feet.

This device was allegedly used during the American Civil War by Union soldiers, against their Confederate prisoners, who were forced to sit on the donkey until they passed out.

6.Coffin Torture

During the Middle Ages, the coffin was one of the most prevalent torture and execution methods, often seen in various movies set in the .medieval Europe The victims were stripped naked, and placed inside a metal cage, roughly made in the shape of the human body. Overweight victims were often forced into the smaller ”coffin”,for increased discomfort. The cage was then hung from a tree, gallows or city walls.


Human-shaped Coffin

Serious crimes, such as heresy or murder, were punishable by death inside the coffin. Victim usually died from thirst, hunger or hypothermia during the course of next few days. Sometimes, onlookers would throw rocks and spoiled food to the victims, to further increase the humiliation and pain. After the person died, his flesh was devoured by birds and insects, leaving only a skeleton.

However, the coffin was not used only for execution, but also as a temporary punishment for minor offenders, who were placed in the coffin only for few days.

5.Lead Sprinkler

The lead sprinkler was a torture device often used to shower victims with molten lead, boiling oil, boiling water, tar or acid. It was essentially a ladle placed at the end of a long, iron handle. At first, the upper half of the sphere was removed, and the lower half was subsequently filled with the liquid of executioner’s choice. The perforated upper half was then re-attached, and shaking of the sprinkler showered the victim with the hot liquid inside the ladle.


Lead Sprinkler

Another variations of this torture method included pouring molten metal to victim’s mouth, anus or vagina, causing great deal of pain, serious inner burns, and eventual death. In Mongol Empire, the worst criminals were sometimes punished by pouring molten silver to their eyes.

4.Breast Ripper

A torture device designed especially for use on women, the breast ripper was one of the most brutal torture methods in the whole Middle Ages. It was usually used as a punitive or interrogational device on female criminals accused of adultery, self-induced abortion, blasphemy, heresy or witchcraft.


Breast Ripper

The red hot claws were placed on the victim’s exposed breasts, with the spikes penetrating them, achieving a powerful grasp. The ripper was then pulled away, ripping and shredding the breasts. Victim was usually scarred for life, as her breasts were usually torn apart. Due to heavy blood loss or infection, death often followed.

A common variant of the Breast Ripper was known as “The Spider,” or ”Tarantula”. It was a similar instrument attached to a wall of torture chamber. Breasts of the victim were fixed to the clawed bars and she was then pulled by the executioner away from the wall, severely mutilating or even tearing her breasts off.

3.The Rack

Who could forget the rack, commonly considered one of the most painful forms of medieval torture?

The Rack consisted of a large rectangular wooden frame, with a roller at one or both ends. Victim was positioned on the frame, his ankles were fastened to one roller and the wrists to the other. As the interrogation process progressed, a handle attached to the top roller was used to gradually stretch the limbs away from the body, resulting in excruciating pain.

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Rack in the Tower of London

The ropes would pull the victim’s arms and legs, eventually dislocating his joints with loud popping noises, snapping his muscles and ligaments, and sometimes even ripping the person’s upper limbs right off his body.

Even forcing the prisoners to watch someone else being tortured on the rack was often enough to extract confessions.

In the later Middle Ages, a new, even more gruesome design of the rack appeared. Spikes penetrating victim’s back were also added, so as the limbs were pulled apart, also was the spinal cord.

2.Crocodile Shears

The crocodile shears were a torture instrument used in late medieval Europe and usually reserved for men who tried to assassinate the king. These shears were made of metal, based on the concept of pincers. The insides of their hemicylindrical blades were lined with a great amount of spikes.


Crocodile shears

After being heated to an excruciatingly hot temperature, the crocodile shears were applied to the victim’s erect penis, which was then torn from his body, or, if he was lucky, the device could just lead to intense bleeding from the severed arteries. Sounds like a device from hell, if there is one.

1.The Head Crusher

The head crusher was a brutal torture device commonly used only by the Spanish Inquisition. The person’s chin was placed over a bottom bar and the head under a uppermetal cap. The executioner then slowly turned the screw, gradually compressing the head between the bar and cap.


Head Crusher(previously used by Spanish Inquisition)

At first, the teeth were smashed and disintegrated into the jaw, then the eyes followed. Some variants of the head crusher even included a small containers that received the eyeballs squeezed out of the person’s eye sockets. The agony could last several hours, until the victim’s brain was finally crushed.

This horrendous instrument was an effective way to extract confessions from the victims, as the suffering could be prolonged to indefinite time, if the executioner chose to. However, even if the torture was stopped midway, the person, although still alive, often had irreversibly damaged brain, eyes or jaw.


Execution by elephant in Persia(Louis Rousselet, 1868)

In the medieval India and Persia, trained elephants were often used to crush the heads of criminals. This practice continued well into the 19th century. Execution by elephant in Persia(Louis Rousselet, 1868)