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.

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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.

READ ALSO: 13 medieval torture methods that are as morbid as they are twisted


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.

READ ALSO: 10 Most Cruel Torture Devices of All Time

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