10 Most Horrifying Torture Methods In All of History

In a world where criminal offenses are becoming more complicated by the minute and the strict laws that protect us becoming more concrete, there isn’t much need for torture methods. However, before all these rules and principles were established, there were some really horrifying torture methods that were used on criminals, people who were to be interrogated, and even innocent people who refused to be oppressed. Well, either way, these torture methods are a part of our history and are often brushed off as fiction. So, here are the ten most horrifying torture methods of all time!

Warning: NSFW Content!

1. Scaphism

It was a method of torturous execution where you die from your insides rotting out, and being eaten alive by insects.

scaphism
Image source: nishan.org

Scaphism was a Persian torture method.  The name comes from the Greek σκάφη, skáphe, meaning “anything scooped (or hollowed) out”. In scaphism, a person was stripped naked and was tied down inside two empty boats, one on top of the other. Next, they were forced to ingest milk and honey. The milk and honey gave the person diarrhea and the feces attracted insects. Insects feed and breed on the victim while he was tied down and rotting in his own feces. The infections would become extremely torturous. Therefore, it led to a slow excruciating death.

In an ancient description Life of Artaxerxes, Plutarch talks this method. The writing was about the king who decreed that Mithridates should be put to death in boats by scaphism.(source)

2. Judas cradle

In this torture method, a pyramid-shaped seat was slowly forced up the anus/vag*na until the victim died of shock or infection.

Image source: planetdeadly.com

The Judas cradle or the Judas chair was a medieval torture device which had a pyramid-shaped seat and a waist harness on top. Strangely enough, the victim would be placed in the harness and lowered on the pyramid with the pyramid being inserted into their anus or vagina very slowly. Gradually, the pain would increase and due to the pressure, the muscle tear would increase. Finally, the victim would die of infection, pain, septic wound, or by being impaled.

A similar device was said to be used in Prussia to discipline soldiers. This device was not designed to break the skin but instead cause damage to the genitals.(source)

3. Brazen bull

This was a method in which victims were shut in and roasted alive by a fire kindled beneath, while their screams mimicked the bellowing of the bull.

Brazen bull
Image source: glengreen.com

The brazen bull, bronze bull, or Sicilian bull was a torture and execution device designed in ancient Greece. According to Diodorus Siculus, recounting the story in Bibliotheca Historica, Perillos of Athens invented and proposed it to Phalaris, the tyrant of Akragas, Sicily, as a new means of executing criminals. In this method, the victim would be kept in a bronze, hollow bull with a door on one side. This life-size bull also had a mechanism which converted the screams of the victim into bull noises. This bull would then be set on a fire which would heat the metal up roasting the victim to death.

Also, in ancient texts, the Romans were reputed to have used this torture device to kill some Christians. Notably, it was Saint Eustace, who, according to Christian tradition, was roasted in a brazen bull with his wife and children by Emperor Hadrian.(source)

4. Rat torture

This method of torture consisted of a pottery bowl filled with rats placed open side down on the naked body of a prisoner. When hot charcoal was piled on the bowl, the rats would “gnaw into the very bowels of the victim” in an attempt to escape the heat.

Rat torture
Image source: discoverinformation.com/

There are various forms of rat torture. The earliest mention of rat torture is by Roman Catholic writers of the Elizabethan era. According to them, the Tower of London featured “Rat Dungeon” or “Dungeon of the Rats”. It was also used during the Dutch Revolution. Diederik Sonoy has documented a method in which a pottery bowl filled with rats was placed on the naked body of a prisoner. The open side of the bowl faced downwards. Next, hot charcoal was piled on the top of the bowl. In order to escape the heat, the rats would “gnaw into the very bowels of the victim”.

The rat torture resurfaced recently on October 16, 2010, in  Lakewood Township, New Jersey when David Wax used it to threaten a kidnap victim to give his wife a divorce.(source)

5. Peine forte et dure

In this method of torture, if a defendant stood mute and refused to plead guilty or innocent, they would be subjected to having heavier and heavier stones placed upon their chest until a plea was entered, or they died.

Peine forte et dure
Image source: executedtoday.com

Peine forte et dure was a torture method which translates in French to “hard and forceful punishment”. In this method of torture, the victim would be tied down naked with their back on the floor and interrogated. If the victim would stand mute, they would put heavy weights made of stone and iron on their chest. Thus, this method was also known as being “pressing to death”.

The most famous case in England was that of Roman Catholic martyr St Margaret Clitherow. It was done in order to avoid a trial in which her own children would be obliged to give evidence and could be tortured. Hence, she was pressed to death on 25 March, 1586.(source)

6. Rack

This torture device was used to fasten the victim’s ankles to a roller and the wrists were chained to another. Next, a handle and ratchet mechanism were attached to the rollers and were used to very gradually increase the tension on the chains, inducing excruciating pain.

Rack
Image source: howstuffworks.com

The rack was first used in antiquity and it is unclear exactly from which civilization it originated, although some of the earliest examples are from Greece. The Greeks may have first used the rack as a means of torturing slaves and non-citizens as far back as 356 BC when it was applied to gain a confession from Herostratus who was later executed for burning down a monument. The rack torture method consisted of a rectangular, usually wooden, frame, slightly raised from the ground, with a roller at one or both ends. The victim was then tied to the frame between two rollers. As the interrogation progressed, a handle was used to increase the tension on the chains. This directly increased pressure on the ankles and wrists of the victim inducing a lot of pain.

This was explained by Tacitus a senator of the Roman empire. He explained the rack was to be used to extract the names of conspirators. It was also used to assassinate Emperor Nero in the Pisonian Conspiracy by the freedwoman Epicharis in 65 A.D.(source)

7. Glasgow smile

This torture was created by making small cuts on each side of the mouth and then beating/stabbing the person until muscular contractions cause the cuts to extend.

Glasgow smile
Image source: youtube.com

This torture method originated in Glasgow, hence, the name. It is also known as the “Chelsea grin”. In this torture method, the victim was given wounds on the corners of their mouth leading up to their ears making the cuts seem like a big, broad smile. Nothing about this method is smile-worthy, but what makes it worse is that the victim was then stabbed so that the wound opens wider and induced more pain. Although, this method didn’t cause many deaths, it was one of the most common torture methods in Scotland. The cuts were usually performed by shards of glass or just a utility knife.

The practice is said to have originated in Glasgow, Scotland in the 1920s and ’30s. It became popular with English street gangs, and hence, the name “Chelsea grin” was born. William Joyce, aka “Lord Haw-Haw,” a British fascist who made propaganda broadcasts from Germany during World War II (and was executed for treason after the war), received a Glasgow smile while stewarding a Conservative Party meeting.(source)

8. Death by sawing

It was an ancient execution method that involved hanging the victim upside down from the ankles with their legs spread and sawing them in half from the crotch down to the head, with some victims surviving up until the belly button.

Death by sawing
Image source: blogspot.in

Death by sawing was a rather famous torture method used in parts of ancient Rome, Spain, and Russia. This torture method was done using several different procedures, but the one that we found to be the most horrifying was this one. Here, the victim was hung upside down by their ankles and sawed from the groin to the head. Sometimes they were also sawed just to the belly button to let them live the last part of their lives in torture. Moreover, the reason for the upside down hanging has been documented. It is so that the blood flows to the brain and keeps the victim alive until the very last part.

One of the earliest recorded uses of this torture was documented in St. Tarbula. Accused of practicing witchcraft and of causing sickness to befall the wife of the ardently anti-Christian, Persian king, Shapur II, she was condemned and executed by being sawed in half in the year 345.(source)

9. The blood eagle

In this torture method, a cut was made in the abdomen between the ribs and the ribs were then pulled open to pull the lungs out resembling the wings of a bloody eagle. 

Blood eagle
Image source:emgn.com

The “blood eagle” is referenced by the eleventh-century poet Sigvatr Þórðarson, who, some time between 1020 and 1038, wrote a Skaldic verse named Knútsdrápa that recounts and establishes Ivar the Boneless as having killed Ælla by cutting his back. The blood eagle is a very detailed torture method written in Skaldic poetry. The procedure consists of cuts made on the ribs through the vertebral column of a person. These cuts are then used to rip out the lungs through the opening to create a pair of “wings”. Thus, it makes the person look like a bloody eagle. The person is alive for the most part of the entire process if done correctly.

There are two incidents and one oblique reference in Norse literature which mention the ritual. The primary versions both have some commonalities: the victims are both noblemen, Halfdan Haaleg or “Long-leg” was a princeand  Ælla of Northumbria a king, and both of the executions were in retaliation for the murder of a father.(source)

10. The Wheel

This was a medieval torture method in which your arms and legs would be broken such that you could be woven through a spoked wheel which was then hung in the sun so the crows could feed on you.

Wheel torture
Image caption: stephenliddell.co.uk

This method of execution was used in 18th-century North America following slave revolts. It was once used in New York after several British citizens were killed during a slave rebellion in 1712. Between 1730 and 1754, eleven slaves in French-controlled Louisiana, who had revolted against their masters, were killed on the wheel. This torture method is was one of the most horrifying of methods. The victim’s bones in all the limbs were broken by an iron bar. These shattered limbs were then woven through the spoked wheel. Finally, the wheel would be left in the sun so that the victim’s agony is increased, and crows that were attracted to the blood. It was a rather unpleasant and gradual death.

A historical record of this states that on 1 October, 1786, in the County of Tecklenburg, Heinrich Dolle was to be executed by being broken on the wheel for the aggravated murder of a Jew. The court had decided that Dolle should be broken von oben herab: the first stroke of the wheel should crush his chest.(source)

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