Flagellation

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To be distinguished from flagellate.
For works of art depicting Jesus, see Flagellation of Christ.
"Lashes" redirects here. For other uses, see Lashes (disambiguation).
Public flogging of a slave in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - work of French painter Jean-Baptiste Debret (1768–1848).

Flagellation (Latin flagellum, "whip"), flogging, whipping or lashing is the act of methodically beating the human body with special implements such as whips, lashes, rods, switches, the cat o' nine tails, the sjambok, etc. Typically, flogging is imposed on an unwilling subject as a punishment; however, it can also be submitted to willingly, or performed on oneself, in religious or sadomasochistic contexts.

In some circumstances the word "flogging" is used loosely to include any sort of corporal punishment, including birching and caning. However, in British legal terminology, a distinction was drawn (and still is, in one or two colonial territories) between "flogging" (with a cat-o'-nine-tails) and "whipping" (formerly with a whip, but since the early 19th century with a birch). In Britain these were both abolished in 1948.

Disciplinary use and torture[edit]

Prisoners at a whipping post in a Delaware prison, circa 1907.

Antiquity[edit]

In Sparta, young men were flogged as a test of their masculinity. Jewish law limited flagellation to forty strokes, and in practice delivered thirty-nine, so as to avoid any possibility of breaking this law due to a miscount. Additionally they would have a doctor monitor the punishment, who would stop it if it became too much for the person to bear safely.

In the Roman Empire, flagellation was often used as a prelude to crucifixion, and in this context is sometimes referred to as scourging. Whips with small pieces of metal or bone at the tips were commonly used. Such a device could easily cause disfigurement and serious trauma, such as ripping pieces of flesh from the body or loss of an eye. In addition to causing severe pain, the victim would approach a state of hypovolemic shock due to loss of blood.

The Romans reserved this treatment for non-citizens, as stated in the lex Porcia and lex Sempronia, dating from 195 and 123 BCE. The poet Horace refers to the horribile flagellum (horrible whip) in his Satires. Typically, the one to be punished was stripped naked and bound to a low pillar so that he could bend over it, or chained to an upright pillar so as to be stretched out. Two lictors (some reports indicate scourgings with four or six lictors) alternated blows from the bare shoulders down the body to the soles of the feet. There was no limit to the number of blows inflicted - this was left to the lictors to decide, though they were normally not supposed to kill the victim. Nonetheless, Livy, Suetonius and Josephus report cases of flagellation where victims died while still bound to the post. Flagellation was referred to as "half death" by some authors and apparently, many victims died shortly thereafter. Cicero reports in In Verrem, "pro mortuo sublatus brevi postea mortuus" ("taken away for a dead man, shortly thereafter he was dead"). In some cases the victim was turned over to allow flagellation on the chest, though this proceeded with more caution, as the possibility of inflicting a fatal blow was much greater.

From Middle Ages to modern times[edit]

The Whipping Act was passed in England in 1530. Under this legislation, vagrants were to be taken to a nearby populated area "and there tied to the end of a cart naked and beaten with whips throughout such market town till the body shall be bloody".[1]

Whipping was used during the French Revolution. On 31 May 1793, the Jacobin women seized a revolutionary leader, Anne Josephe Theroigne de Mericourt, stripped her naked, and flogged her on the bare bottom in the public garden of the Tuileries. After this humiliation, she refused to wear any clothes, in memory of the outrage she had suffered.[2] She went mad and ended her days in an asylum after the public whipping.

Punishment with a Great Knout. Russia, 18th century.

In the Russian Empire, knouts were used to flog criminals and political offenders. Sentences of a hundred lashes would usually result in death. Whipping was used as a punishment for Russian serfs.[3]

Use against slaves[edit]

Gordon, a whipped slave, photo taken at Baton Rouge, 1863. The scars are clearly visible because of keloid formation.

Whipping has been used as a form of discipline against slaves. It was frequently carried out during the period of slavery in the United States, by slave owners and their employees. The power was also given to slave "patrollers," mostly poor whites, who had among their powers the ability to whip any slave who violated the slave codes.

Present-day official flogging[edit]

No longer used in most Western countries, flogging or whipping is still a common punishment in some parts of the world, particularly in many former British territories and in Islamic countries. Medically supervised caning is routinely ordered by the courts as a penalty for some categories of crime in Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and elsewhere.

Flogging as military punishment[edit]

In the 18th and 19th centuries, European armies administered floggings to common soldiers who committed breaches of the military code. During the American Revolutionary War, the American Congress raised the legal limit on lashes from 39 to 100 for soldiers who were convicted by courts-martial.[4] Generally, officers were not flogged. However, in 1745, a cashiered British officer could have his sword broken over his head, among other indignities inflicted on him.[5]

Flogging was a common disciplinary measure in the British navy that became associated with a seaman's manly disregard for pain.[6] Aboard ships, knittles or the cat o' nine tails was used for severe formal punishment, while a "rope's end" or "starter" was used to administer informal, on-the-spot discipline. In severe cases a person could be "lashed around the fleet": a significant number of lashes (up to 600) was divided among the ships on a station and the person was taken to all ships to be lashed on each.[7]

In June 1879, flogging in the British Navy was debated in the House of Commons. John O'Connor Power, the member for Mayo, asked the First Lord of the Admiralty to bring the navy cat-of-nine-tails to the Commons Library so that the members might see what they were voting for. It was the Great 'Cat' Contention, 'Mr Speaker, since the Government has let the cat out of the bag, there is nothing to be done but to take the bull by the horns.' Poet Laureate Ted Hughes celebrates the occasion in his poem, 'Wilfred Owen's Photographs': 'A witty profound Irishman calls/For a 'cat' into the House, and sits to watch/The gentry fingering its stained tails./Whereupon ...Quietly, unopposed,/The motion was passed.'[8]'

In the Napoleonic Wars, the maximum number of lashes that could be inflicted on soldiers in the British Army reached 1,200. This many lashes could permanently disable or kill a man. Oman, historian of the Peninsular War, noted that the maximum sentence was inflicted "nine or ten times by general court-martial during the whole six years of the war" and that 1,000 lashes were administered about 50 times.[9] Other sentences were for 900, 700, 500 and 300 lashes. One soldier was sentenced to 700 lashes for stealing a beehive.[10] Another man was let off after only 175 of 400 lashes, but spent three weeks in the hospital.[11] Later in the war, the more draconian punishments were abandoned and the offenders shipped to New South Wales instead, where more whippings often awaited them. (See Australian penal colonies section.) Oman later wrote:

If anything was calculated to brutalize an army it was the wicked cruelty of the British military punishment code, which Wellington to the end of his life supported. There is plenty of authority for the fact that the man who had once received his 500 lashes for a fault which was small, or which involved no moral guilt, was often turned thereby from a good soldier into a bad soldier, by losing his self-respect and having his sense of justice seared out. Good officers knew this well enough, and did their best to avoid the cat-of-nine-tails, and to try more rational means—more often than not with success.[12]

Meanwhile, during the French Revolutionary Wars the French Army stopped floggings altogether. The King's German Legion (KGL), which were German units in British pay, did not flog. In one case, a British soldier on detached duty with the KGL was sentenced to be flogged, but the German commander refused to carry out the punishment. When the British 73rd Foot flogged a man in occupied France in 1814, disgusted French citizens protested against it.[13]

At the urging of New Hampshire Senator John P. Hale, the United States "Congress banned flogging on all U.S. ships in September 1850."[14] Hale was inspired by Herman Melville's "vivid description of flogging, a brutal staple of 19th century naval discipline" in Melville's "novelized memoir" White Jacket.[14] Melville also included a vivid depiction of flogging, and the circumstances surrounding it, in his more famous work, Moby-Dick.

Military flogging was abolished in the United States Army on 5 August 1861.[citation needed] The punishment was abolished in the Royal Navy in 1879.[15]

One of few countries where corporal punishment is still officially used in the armed forces is Singapore, where military legislation provides that errant soldiers can be sentenced by court-martial to strokes of the cane.

Australian penal colonies[edit]

Fremantle Prison whipping post.

Once common in the British Army and British Royal Navy as a means of discipline, flagellation also featured prominently in the British penal colonies in early colonial Australia. Given that convicts in Australia were already "imprisoned", punishments for offenses committed in the colonies could not usually result in imprisonment and thus usually consisted of corporal punishment such as hard labour or flagellation. Unlike Roman times, British law explicitly forbade the combination of corporal and capital punishment; thus, a convict was either flogged or hanged but never both.

Flagellation took place either with a single whip or, more notoriously, with the cat o' nine tails. Typically, the offender's upper half was bared and he was suspended by the wrists beneath a tripod of wooden beams (known as 'the triangle'). In many cases, the offender's feet barely touched ground, which helped to stretch the skin taut and increase the damage inflicted by the whip. It also centered the offender's weight in his shoulders, further ensuring a painful experience.

With the prisoner thus stripped and bound, either one or two floggers administered the prescribed number of strokes, or "lashes," to the victim's back. During the flogging, a doctor or other medical worker was consulted at regular intervals as to the condition of the prisoner. In many cases, however, the physician merely observed the offender to determine whether he was conscious. If the prisoner passed out, the physician would order a halt until the prisoner was revived, and then the whipping would continue.

Female convicts were also subject to flogging as punishment, both on the convict ships and in the penal colonies. Although they were generally given fewer lashes than males (usually limited to 40 in each flogging), there was no other difference between the manner in which males and females were flogged.

Floggings of both male and female convicts were public, administered before the whole colony's company, assembled especially for the purpose. In addition to the infliction of pain, one of the principal purposes of the flogging was to humiliate the offender in front of his mates and to demonstrate, in a forceful way, that he had been required to submit to authority.

At the conclusion of the whipping, the prisoner's lacerated back was normally rinsed with brine, which served as a crude and painful disinfectant.

Flogging still continued for years after independence. The last person flogged in Australia was William John O'Meally in 1958 in Melbourne's Pentridge Prison.

(See also: History of Australia).

Judaism[edit]

According to the Torah and Rabbinic law lashes may be given for offenses that do not merit capital punishment, and may not exceed 40. However in the absence of a Sanhedrin, corporal punishment is not practiced in Jewish law. Halakha specifies the lashes must be given in sets of three, so the total number cannot exceed 39. Also, the person whipped is first judged whether they can withstand the punishment, if not, the number of whips is decreased.

Pre-Christianity[edit]

During the Ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia young men ran through the streets with thongs cut from the hide of goats which had just been sacrificed, and women who wished to conceive put themselves in their way to receive blows, apparently mostly on the hands.[citation needed] The eunuch priests of the goddess Cybele, the galli, flogged themselves until they bled during the annual festival called Dies sanguinis. Greco-Roman mystery religions also sometimes involved ritual flagellation, as famously depicted in the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii, apparently showing initiation into the Dionysian Mysteries.[citation needed]

Roman Catholicism[edit]

Flagellants. From a fifteenth-century woodcut.

The Flagellation refers in a Christian context to the Flagellation of Christ, an episode in the Passion of Christ prior to Jesus' crucifixion. The practice of mortification of the flesh for religious purposes has been utilized by Roman Catholics since the time of the Great Schism in 1054.

St. Therese of Lisieux, a Carmelite nun of late 19th-century France who has now been declared a Doctor of the Church, is an influential example of a Catholic Saint who questioned prevailing attitudes toward physical penance. Her view was that loving acceptance of the many sufferings of daily life was pleasing to God, and fostered loving relationships with other people, more than taking upon oneself extraneous sufferings through instruments of penance. However as a Carmelite nun, she practiced voluntary corporal mortification.

Islam[edit]

Flogging is a form of punishment used under Islamic Sharia law. It is the prescribed punishment (hadd) for offences including fornication, alcohol use and slander and is also widely favoured as a discretionary punishment (ta'zir) for many offences, such as violating gender interaction laws. Punishment is normally carried out in public. However, some scholars maintain that this goes against the teachings of Islam.[16] In Islam, lashes for punishment for women are often performed with the Qu'ran under one arm to minimise the swing and as a reminder of the source of legislation. They are not supposed to leave permanent scars, and when the number of lashes is high, are frequently done in batches to minimise risk of harm.

Self-flagellation[edit]

Shi'ites in Pakistan flagellate themselves during the Moharram procession.
Self-flagelation is ritually performed in the Philippines during Holy Week (on Good Friday, before Easter).
Main article: Self-flagellation

Christianity[edit]

In the 13th century, a group of Roman Catholics, known as the Flagellants, took this practice to its extreme ends. The Flagellants were later condemned by the Roman Catholic Church as a cult in the 14th century because the established church had no other control over the practice other than excommunication.[citation needed] Self-flagellation remains common in the Philippines, Mexico, and one convent in Peru.

Some members of strict monastic orders, and some members of the Catholic lay organization Opus Dei, practice mild self-flagellation using an instrument called a "discipline", a cattail whip usually made of knotted cords, which is flung over the shoulders repeatedly during private prayer.[17] Pope John Paul II took the discipline regularly.[18]

This was also practiced during the Black Plague as a means to prevent oneself from getting it, people at the time believed it was a punishment from God, thus the logic was that one could punish themselves to prevent the Plague.

Ecstatics and Mystics[edit]

Because practices such as starvation, sleep denial and flagellation are known to induce altered states, flagellation may be used by religious ecstatics and mystics as part of ritualistic practices or ceremonies to achieve unusual states of mind.[citation needed]

Islam[edit]

In some Shi'a communities worldwide, Shi'ites march in massive parades while flogging themselves on the back with knives, blades and chains every year to commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein. Some of these self-flogging traditions include zanjeer zani, talwar zani, qama ka matam, and tatbir. This happens in many countries of the world including India, Pakistan, Iraq and Lebanon. In Iran there is a ban on the use of knives and sharp blades for Mätam or flagellation. Most Shia Scholars, notably Ayatollah Khamenei, condemn the act when using sharp objects or chains and have deemed it forbidden to do so, encouraging to instead give blood donors, also stating that it is a mere tradition and that Shia Islam does not encourage nor state it as mandatory. Despite this many continue to perform the act.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Whipping". 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.
  2. ^ Roudinesco, Elisabeth (1992). Madness and Revolution: The Lives and Legends of Theroigne de Mericourt, Verso. ISBN 0-86091-597-2. p.198
  3. ^ Chapman, Tim (2001). Imperial Russia, 1801-1905. Routledge. p.83. ISBN 0-415-23110-8
  4. ^ Martin, p 76.
  5. ^ Tomasson, p 127.
  6. ^ "Life at sea in the age of sail". National Maritime Museum.
  7. ^ Keith Grint, The Arts of Leadership, 2000, ISBN 0191589330 pp.237-238
  8. ^ Hughes, Ted, 'Wilfred Owen's Photographs', Lupercal, 1960. See also Stanford, Jane, That Irishman: the Life and Times of John O'Connor Power, 2011, pp. 79-80.
  9. ^ Oman, p 239.
  10. ^ Oman, p 246.
  11. ^ Oman, p 254.
  12. ^ Oman, p.43.
  13. ^ Rothenberg, p.179.
  14. ^ a b Hodak, George. "Congress Bans Maritime Flogging". ABA Journal. September 1850, p. 72. Retrieved 18 October 2010.
  15. ^ "Cardwell's Army Reforms 1870--1881"
  16. ^ "Ruling on the crime of rape". 9 January 2012. 
  17. ^ "Opus Dei and corporal mortification". Opus Dei Information Office. 2012. 
  18. ^ Barron, Fr. Robert. "Taking the Discipline". 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]