Mazzatello (abbreviated mazza) was a method of capital punishment used by the Papal States from the late 18th century to 1870 involving the infliction of head trauma. The method was named after the implement used in the execution: a large, long-handled mallet or pole-ax. According to Abbott, mazzatello constituted "one of the most brutal methods of execution ever devised, requiring minimal skill on the part of the executioner and superhuman acquiescence by the victim". Megivern cites mazzatello as one example of an execution method devised by the Papal States that "competed with and in some instances surpassed those of other regimes for cruelty".
The condemned would be led to a scaffold in a public square of Rome, accompanied by a priest (the confessor of the condemned); the platform also contained a coffin and the masked executioner, dressed in black. A prayer would first be said for the condemned's soul. Then, the mallet would be raised, swung through the air to gain momentum, and then brought down on the head of the prisoner, similar to a contemporary method of slaughtering cattle in stockyards. The condemned was usually knocked unconscious rather than being killed instantly, so the throat of the prisoner would then be slit with a knife.
A variation of this method appears in Alexandre Dumas's novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, as la mazzolata and mazzolato, when a prisoner sentenced to execution is bludgeoned on the side of his head with a mace.
- Megivern, James J. 1997. The Death Penalty. Paulist Press. ISBN 0-8091-0487-3. p. 155.
- Abbott, Geoffrey. 2007. What a Way to Go. Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-36656-6. p. 239.
- Quigley, Christine. 1994. Death Dictionary: Over 5,500 Clinical, Legal, Literary, and Vernacular Terms. McFarland. ISBN 0-89950-869-3. p. 103.
- Quigley, Christine. 1996. The Corpse. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0170-2. p. 143.
- Allen, John L., Jr. 2001, September 14. "He executed justice - papal execution Giovanni Battista Bugatti's life and work". National Catholic Reporter.
- Dumas, Alexandre (2003). "La Mazzolata". The Count of Monte Cristo. Translated by Robin Buss. London: Penguin Group. pp. 381–395. ISBN 978-0-14-044926-6.