List of methods of capital punishment

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This is a list of methods of capital punishment, also known as execution.

Current methods[edit]

Method Description
Hanging One of the most common methods of execution, still in use in many countries, usually with a calculated drop to cause neck fracture and instant loss of consciousness. Notably used by India, Japan, Singapore, Pakistan and Iran.
Shooting Also a very common method. Can be applied:
  • By a single shot (such as a shot to the back of a head, as in China, Belarus and by various means in Russia before Russia put a moratorium on capital punishment. Similar process in Taiwan in which prisoners are sedated beforehand.)
  • By a single machine gun, as previously practiced in Thailand and elsewhere.
  • By firing squad (as in Indonesia).
  • By excessively powerful weaponry such as anti-aircraft guns, according to various media sources, practiced in North Korea.[1][2][3]
Lethal injection First used in the United States in 1982, lethal injection has been used by five other countries since then, which are China, Taiwan, Thailand, Guatemala, and Vietnam.
Electrocution Only the United States and the Philippines have ever used this method. Now legal in some U.S. states only to replace injection at the request of the prisoner or if injection is impractical.
Gas inhalation Only the United States and Lithuania have ever used this as a capital punishment method. Now legal in some U.S. states only to replace injection at the request of the prisoner or if injection is impractical.
Beheading Has been used at various points in history in many countries. One of the most famous forms is execution by guillotine. Now used only in Saudi Arabia with a sword.

Ancient methods[edit]

Method Description
Back-breaking A Mongolian method of execution that avoided the spilling of blood on the ground[5] (example: the Mongolian leader Jamukha was probably executed this way in 1206).[6]
Blowing from a gun Tied to the mouth of a cannon, which is then fired.
Blood Eagle Cutting the skin of the victim by the spine, breaking the ribs so they resembled blood-stained wings, and pulling the lungs out through the wounds in the victim's back. Possibly used by the Vikings.
Boiling to death This penalty was carried out using a large cauldron filled with water, oil, tar, tallow, or even molten lead.
Brazen bull Pushed inside an iron bull statue and then cooked alive after a fire is lit under it.
Breaking wheel Also known as the Catherine wheel, after a saint who was allegedly sentenced to be executed by this method.
Buried alive Traditional punishment for Vestal virgins who had broken their vows.
Burning Most infamous as a method of execution for heretics and witches. A slower method of applying single pieces of burning wood was used by Native Americans in torturing their captives to death.[7]
Crucifixion Roping or nailing to a wooden cross or similar apparatus (such as a tree) and allowing to perish.
Crushing By a weight, abruptly or as a slow ordeal. Giles Corey was killed this way.
Disembowelment Often employed as a preliminary stage to the actual execution, e.g. by beheading; an integral part of seppuku (harakiri), which was sometimes used as a form of capital punishment.
Dismemberment Being drawn and quartered sometimes resulted in dismemberment. Note: this has been used in combination, such as hanged, drawn and quartered.
Drowning Execution by drowning, as a method of execution, is attested very early in history, for a large variety of cultures, and as the method of execution for many types of offences.
Drawing and quartering English method of executing those found guilty of high treason.
Falling The victim is thrown off a height or into a hollow (example: the Barathron in Athens, into which the Athenian generals condemned for their part in the battle of Arginusae were cast).[8] In Argentina during the Dirty War, those secretly abducted were later drugged and thrown from an airplane into the ocean.
Defenstration The act of throwing the victim out of a window such as in the Defenstrations of Prague which occurred in Bohemia.
Flaying The skin is removed from the body.
Garrote Used most commonly in Spain and in former Spanish colonies (e.g. the Philippines), used to strangle or choke someone.
Gibbeting The act of gibbeting refers to the use of a gallows-type structure from which the victim was usually placed within a cage which is then hung in a public location and the victim left to die to deter other existing or potential criminals.
Immurement The confinement of a person by walling off any exits; since they were usually kept alive through an opening, this was more a form of imprisonment for life than of capital punishment (example: the countess Elisabeth Báthory, who lived for four more years after having been immured).
Impalement The penetration of a human by an object such as a stake, pole, spear, or hook, often by complete or partial perforation of the torso.
Keelhauling European maritime punishment.
Molten or Heated Metal Supposedly Marcus Licinius Crassus and Pavlo Pavliuk were killed in this fashion. The execution method is associated with those who were thirsty for wealth by pouring down the neck or for those who wished to be king by pouring metal on the head.

Alternately, a heated crown and scepter can be placed on the head to make the victim to appear as a parody of a King. In Ukrainian this is called death by slapstick [9]

Poena cullei Documented used during the Roman empire. The condemned is stuffed into a sack together with a number of animals and thrown into a body of water.
Poisoning Before modern times, sayak (사약, 賜藥) was the method of capital punishment of nobles (yangban) and members of the royal family during the Joseon Dynasty in Korea due to the Confucianist belief that one may kill a seonbi but may not insult him (사가살불가욕, 士可殺不可辱). Poisoning by drinking an infusion of hemlock was used as a method of execution in ancient Greece.
Pendulum[10] A type of machine with an axe head for a weight that slices closer to the victim's torso over time. (Of disputed historicity.)
Sawing (Of disputed historicity.)
Scaphism An Ancient Persian method of execution in which the condemned was placed in between two boats, force fed a mixture of honey and milk, and left floating in a stagnant pond. The victim would then suffer from severe diarrhea, which would attract insects that would burrow, nest, and feed on the victim. The victim would eventually die from septic shock.
Slow slicing Methodically removing portions of the body over an extended period of time, typically with a knife, eventually resulting in death. Sometimes known as "death by a thousand cuts."
Smothering (Asphyxia) Suffocation in ash.
Starvation / Dehydration Immurement.
Stoning The condemned is pummeled by stones thrown by a group of people with the totality of the injuries suffered leading to eventual death.


  1. ^ "North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un's executions: anti-aircraft guns, flamethrowers, mortars". 22 September 2017.
  2. ^ "North Korean defector reveals horror of Kim Jong-un's teenage sex slaves". 21 September 2017.
  3. ^ McKirdy, Euan (February 28, 2017). "N. Korea executed 5 security officials, S. Korea says".
  4. ^ "This Won't Hurt a Bit: A Painlessly Short (and Incomplete) Evolution of Execution".
  5. ^ Saunders, J. J. (1 March 2001). The History of the Mongol Conquests. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 53 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ The Secret History of the Mongols, book 8, chapter 201.
  7. ^ Frederick Drimmer (ed.) "Captured by the Indians - 15 Firsthand Accounts, 1750-1870", Dover Publications, Mineola, N.Y., 1985.
  8. ^ Xenophon, "Hellenica", book I, chapter VII.
  9. ^
  10. ^ R.D. Melville (1905), "The Use and Forms of Judicial Torture in England and Scotland," The Scottish Historical Review, vol. 2, p. 228; Geoffrey Abbott (2006) Execution: the guillotine, the Pendulum, the Thousand Cuts, the Spanish Donkey, and 66 Other Ways of Putting Someone to Death, MacMillan, ISBN 0-312-35222-0, p. 213. Both of these refer to the use of the pendulum (pendola)by inquisitorial tribunals. Melville, however, refers only to its use as a torture method, while Abbott suggests that the device was purposely allowed to kill the victim if he refused to confess.
  11. ^ Penney, David G. (2000) Carbon Monoxide Toxicity, CRC Press, p. 5, ISBN 0-8493-2065-8.

External links[edit]

  • Death Penalty Worldwide: Academic research database on the laws, practice, and statistics of capital punishment for every death penalty country in the world.