Scaphism, also known as the boats, was an ancient Persian method of execution designed to inflict torturous death. The name comes from the Greek word σκάφη, skaphe, meaning "anything scooped (or hollowed) out".
The intended victim was stripped naked and then firmly fastened within the interior spaces of two narrow rowing boats (or hollowed-out tree trunks) joined together one on top of the other with the head, hands and feet protruding. The condemned was forced to ingest milk and honey to the point of developing a severe bowel movement and diarrhoea, and more honey would be rubbed on his body to attract insects to the exposed appendages. He would then be left to float on a stagnant pond or be exposed to the sun. The defenceless individual's faeces accumulated within the container, attracting more insects, which would eat and breed within his exposed flesh, which—pursuant to interruption of the blood supply by burrowing insects—became increasingly gangrenous. The feeding would be repeated each day in some cases to prolong the torture, so that dehydration or starvation did not kill him. Death, when it eventually occurred, was probably due to a combination of dehydration, starvation and septic shock. Delirium would typically set in after a few days.
Historical descriptions 
"The Persians outvie all other Barbarians in the horrid cruelty of their punishments, employing tortures that are peculiarly terrible and long-drawn, namely the ‘boats’ and sewing men up in raw hides. But what is meant by the ‘boats,’ I must now explain for the benefit of less well informed readers. Two boats are joined together one on top of the other, with holes cut in them in such a way that the victim’s head, hands, and feet only are left outside. Within these boats the man to be punished is placed lying on his back, and the boats then nailed together with bolts. Next they pour a mixture of milk and honey into the wretched man’s mouth, till he is filled to the point of nausea, smearing his face, feet, and arms with the same mixture, and so leave him exposed to the sun. This is repeated every day, the effect being that flies, wasps, and bees, attracted by the sweetness, settle on his face and all such parts of him as project outside the boats, and miserably torment and sting the wretched man. Moreover his belly, distended as it is with milk and honey, throws off liquid excrements, and these putrefying breed swarms of worms, intestinal and of all sorts. Thus the victim lying in the boats, his flesh rotting away in his own filth and devoured by worms, dies a lingering and horrible death."—Zonaras, Annals
"[The king] decreed that Mithridates should be put to death in boats; which execution is after the following manner: Taking two boats framed exactly to fit and answer each other, they lay down in one of them the malefactor that suffers, upon his back; then, covering it with the other, and so setting them together that the head, hands, and feet of him are left outside, and the rest of his body lies shut up within, they offer him food, and if he refuse to eat it, they force him to do it by pricking his eyes; then, after he has eaten, they drench him with a mixture of milk and honey, pouring it not only into his mouth, but all over his face. They then keep his face continually turned towards the sun; and it becomes completely covered up and hidden by the multitude of flies that settle on it. And as within the boats he does what those that eat and drink must needs do, creeping things and vermin spring out of the corruption and rottenness of the excrement, and these entering into the bowels of him, his body is consumed. When the man is manifestly dead, the uppermost boat being taken off, they find his flesh devoured, and swarms of such noisome creatures preying upon and, as it were, growing to his inwards. In this way Mithridates, after suffering for seventeen days, at last expired."—Plutarch, Life of Alexander
Similar practices 
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- One variant of the barrel pillory, or Spanish mantle, torture method is quite similar. A barrel is fitted over the entire body without leaving the bottom open as in the other variants (in which the barrel operates as a cangue, allowing mobility), with the head sticking out from a hole in the top. The person is kept locked in the barrel, forcing him to kneel in his own faeces.
- Simpler installations to the same end have been reported among Native American tribes, such as immobilising the condemned, smearing him, and leaving him to voracious ants. Dehydration would set in within a few days. Richard Krousher recommends suspending the naked prisoner from a tree and smearing his entire body with honey, with special attention devoted to the mouth, eyes, ears, genitals, and anus. This will eventually attract enough biting and stinging insects to drive the prisoner mad.
- In early historic times in Siberia, a condemned prisoner would be tied naked to a tree and left to slowly die through starvation and blood loss from mosquitoes, horseflies and other insects.
- Mongols of the Imperial times also practised this type of torture. The interrogators had the arrestees stripped bare, bound their hands and feet, smeared them with honey, and left suffering under the scorching sun and biting insects. See e.g. 12th century case of Tsotne Dadiani and other Georgian nobles interrogated by Mongol invaders.
- Richard Sair refers to one case in modern China in which a man was allegedly chained up outside where the mosquitoes bit him.
- Cyphonism is described thus “I note among certain people a regulation to the following effect—that any man who shall have insolently thrown contempt on the decrees of the law, shall be kept in fetters at the public place of execution for twenty days, naked and smeared over with honey and milk, to be food for bees and flies; and when these have done their work, he shall be dressed in women’s clothes and cast headlong down a cliff.”
- In Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, the rogue Autolycus tells the shepherd and his son that because Perdita has fallen in love with the prince, her adoptive father will be stoned, while her adoptive brother will be subjected to the following punishment: "He has a son,—who shall be flayed alive; then 'nointed over with honey, set on the head of a wasp's nest; then stand till he be three quarters and a dram dead; then recovered again with aqua-vitae or some other hot infusion; then, raw as he is, and in the hottest day prognostication proclaims, shall he be set against a brick wall, the sun looking with a southward eye upon him,—where he is to behold him with flies blown to death."
- An English criminal was reported to have "been plunged into filth and mud and smeared with oil and other assortments, until the sun baked his skin and the creeping things, such as the bees, the wasps, the ants, the flies, crawled onto him and caused his flesh to rot."
- Our Oriental Heritage, Will Durant
- "Tortures and Torments of the Christian Martyrs".
- Plutarch. "Life of Artaxerxes 16".
- Sair, Richard (Sometimes catalogued as Hirsch, Arnold.) "The Book of Torture and Executions". Golden Books, Toronto. 1944. (So catalogued because [a] Dr. Hirsch was the editor and [b] Sair's name appears nowhere in print on the work, only in the L of C cataloguing info, which is so precise as to indicate that "the title of this work was formerly known [sic] as The Book of Torture and Flagellation.")
- Traité des instruments de martyre et des divers modes de supplice employés par les paiens contre les chrétiens (French)
- scaphism in Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)
- BREWER: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Scaphism
- Artaxerxes by Plutarch
- Lexicon Universale, Historiam Sacram Et Profanam Omnis aevi, omniumque Gentium (Late Latin/some Greek)
- Tortures and Torments of the Christian Martyrs