Blinding (punishment)

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Blinding is a type of physical punishment which results in complete or nearly complete loss of vision. It has been used as an act of revenge and torture.[1] The punishment has been used since Antiquity; Greek mythology makes several references to blinding as divine punishment, which reflects human practice.

In the Byzantine Empire and many other historical societies, blinding was accomplished by gouging out the eyes, sometimes using a hot poker, and by pouring a boiling substance, such as vinegar, on them.[2]


In mythology and religious law[edit]

Oedipus, who gouged out his own eyes after accidentally fulfilling the prophecy that he would end up killing his father and marrying his mother.[3] In the Bible, Samson was blinded upon his capture by the Philistines.[4]

Early Christians were often blinded as a penalty for their beliefs.[5] For example, St. Lucy's torturers tore out her eyes.

Blinding survives as a form of penalty in the modern era, especially as part of the sharia law. In 2003, a Pakistani court sentenced a man to be blinded after he subjected his fiancee to an acid attack resulting in loss of vision. The man who blinded Ameneh Bahrami in an acid attack was sentenced to blinding by an Iranian court in 2009; Bahrami eventually pardoned the attacker.[1]

In history[edit]

In the Middle Ages, blinding was used as a penalty for treason or as a means of rendering a political opponent unable to rule and lead an army in war.[6] Byzantine general Belisarius (c. 500 - 565) is said to have been blinded at the order of the Emperor Justinian. In 1014, the Byzantine emperor Basil II had 99 of every 100 captured Bulgarians blinded, leaving 150 one-eyed men to lead them back to their commander.[1] Vazul (before 997 – 1031/1032) of the Hungarian royal House of Árpád was blinded at the order either of his cousin King Stephen I or of his queen, Gisela.

In the 11th century, William the Conqueror used blinding as a punishment for rebellion to replace the death penalty in his laws for England. King William was also accused of making the killing of a hart or hind in a royal forest into a crime punishable by blinding, but the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle claims that this was made up to tarnish King William's reputation.

Henry I of England blinded William, Count of Mortain, who had fought against him at Tinchebray in 1106. He also ordered blinding and castration as a punishment for thieves.[6] Prince Álmos and his four-year-old son Béla II of Hungary were blinded in 1113 by Álmos' brother Coloman.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Goes, Frank Joseph (2013). The Eye in History. JP Medical Ltd. p. 234. ISBN 9350902745.
  2. ^ Lawler, Jennifer (2004). Encyclopedia of the Byzantine Empire. McFarland. p. 106. ISBN 1476609292.
  3. ^ Rose, Martha L. (2003). The Staff of Oedipus: Transforming Disability in Ancient Greece. University of Michigan Press. pp. 81–82. ISBN 0472113399.
  4. ^ Hartsock, Chad (2008). Sight and Blindness in Luke-Acts: The Use of Physical Features in Characterization. Brill. p. 107. ISBN 9004165355.
  5. ^ Pearman, Tory Vandeventer (2010). Women and Disability in Medieval Literature. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 89. ISBN 0230117562.
  6. ^ a b Evans, Michael (2007). The Death of Kings: Royal Deaths in Medieval England. A&C Black. pp. 37, 89–90. ISBN 1852855851.