List of methods of torture
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A list of torture methods and devices includes:
- 1 Psychological torture methods
- 2 Physical torture methods
- 3 Instruments of torture
- 4 Medieval and early modern instruments of torture
- 4.1 Judas cradle
- 4.2 Chair of Torture
- 4.3 The Rack
- 4.4 Brazen Bull
- 4.5 Chinese Iron Maiden
- 4.6 Pear of Anguish
- 4.7 Dunking
- 4.8 Boiling
- 4.9 Exposure
- 4.10 Brown Rats
- 5 See also
- 6 References
Psychological torture methods
- Exploitation of phobias; e.g., mock execution, leaving arachnophobes in a room full of spiders
- Being subjected to interrogation for long periods
- Sleep deprivation
- Solitary confinement
- Sensory deprivation
- Threat of permanent, severe disfigurement
- Pharmacological torture
- Chinese water torture
Physical torture methods
Instruments of torture
Note that the line between "torture method" and "torture device" is often blurred, particularly when a specifically named implement is but one component of a method. Also, many devices that can be used for torture have mainstream uses, completely unrelated to torture.
While it may seem that a disproportionate number of tortures were applied to the feet, this is actually extremely logical. The intent of torture is to cause carefully controllable agony without endangering the prisoner's life. This is clearly accomplished by staying as far as possible from the brain and the vital (viz., abdominal) organs. The only body part that satisfies this twin criterion is the foot, where one finds small bones to crush; nails to tear out embedded in extremely sensitive nail beds; toes to pinch and squeeze; the most heat-sensitive skin in the human body to burn and flay; etc.
Medieval and early modern instruments of torture
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These torture devices were devices used in the Middle Ages or early modern period to cause pain, injury, and sometimes death, usually to extract information or a confession from criminals or prisoners, also as punishment for crimes.
The Judas Cradle is falsely attributed to the Spanish Inquisition. These origins are disputed by all serious historians of the Inquisition.[by whom?] There is no documented evidence for the device existing at all during the Middle Ages.
The Judas cradle was a tall thin stool shaped device with a metal or wooden pyramid on top.
The victim would be stripped, bound with ropes, and suspended above the device. They would then be lowered, usually very slowly, on to the device, making the pyramid enter the vagina or anus. The amount of pain the device inflicted could be changed in several ways. The victim could be rocked, they could be dropped repeatedly onto the device, one leg could be lifted, olive oil could be spread on the pyramid, or brass weights could be hung from the victim's legs.
Sometimes to prolong torture the victim would be suspended above the device overnight and torture would continue the next morning.
The device was rarely, if ever, cleaned. If victims did not die from the device, they almost always died from infection. Torture with the Judas Cradle could last several hours to several days.
Apart from the agonizing pain one suffered, the humiliation was the primary attraction for this method of torture. Whenever the victim fainted from the pain, the torturer would lift the victim until the tortured person was "awake" again to commence with the process.
The Judas Cradle was used in several countries, each having their own names for it. In Italy it was known as "culla di Giuda", in Germany "Judaswiege", and in France "la veille". It is also known as the Judas Chair.
Chair of Torture
There are many variants of the chair, though they all have one thing in common: spikes cover the back, arm-rests, seat, leg-rests, and foot-rests. The number of spikes in one of these chairs ranges from 500 to 1,500.
To avoid movement, the victim's wrists were tied to the chair or, in one version, two bars pushed the arms against arm-rests for the spikes to penetrate the flesh even further. In some versions, there were holes under the chair's bottom where the torturer placed coal to cause severe burns while the victim still remained conscious. In other versions there were weights that would be placed on the victim's thighs or feet. In a special version there were spikes on the head rest and the executioner pushed his head against it.
This instrument's strength lies primarily in the psychological fear caused to the victims. They would often use the victims fear to scare them. It was a common practice to extract a confession by forcing the victim to watch someone else be tortured with this instrument.
The time of death greatly varied ranging from a few hours to a day or more. No spikes penetrated any vital organ and the wounds were closed by the spikes themselves which delayed blood loss greatly.
Medieval Britain during the time the Plantagenet kings ruled England during (1154–1485).
The rack is a torture device that consists of an oblong, rectangular, usually wooden frame, slightly raised from the ground, with a roller at one, or both, ends, having at one end a fixed bar to which the legs were fastened, and at the other a movable bar to which the hands were tied. The victim's feet are fastened to one roller, and the wrists are chained to the other.
The torturer turned the handle causing the ropes to pull the victim's arms. Eventually, the victim's bones were dislocated with a loud crack, caused by snapping cartilage, ligaments or bones. If the torturer kept turning the handles the limbs would eventually be torn off.
This method was mostly used to extract confessions, not confessing meant that the torturer could stretch more. Sometimes, torturers forced their victim to watch other people be tortured with this device to implant psychological fear.
Sometime this method was limited to dislocating a few bones, but the torturer often went too far and rendered the legs or arms (sometimes both) useless. In the late Middle Ages, some new variants of this instrument appeared. They often had spikes that penetrated the victim's back - as the limbs were pulled apart, so was his or her spinal cord increasing not only in physical pain, but the psychological one of being handicapped at best, too.
The Brazen Bull was invented in Ancient Greece, by Perillos of Athens. Perillos proposed his idea of a more painful means of execution to Phalaris, the tyrant of Akraga. Phalaris liked the idea of the Brazen Bull, and so it was made. Once finished, Phalaris ordered it to be tested on Perillos himself. Perillos was removed from the Bull before he died, but was later killed by Phalaris when he threw Perillos off a hill. The Greek had specially engineered tubes to make the screams of the victims sound like the noise of a bull.
The Bull was made wholly of brass, and was hollow with a door in the side.
When a victim was placed inside the brazen bull, she or he was slowly burned to death. The device gradually became more sophisticated, until the Greeks invented a complex system of tubes in order to make the victim's screams sound more like an infuriated bull, and also made it so the smoke from it rose in clouds of incense.This torture is similar to being boiled alive.
Chinese Iron Maiden
Similar to the Iron Maiden of the 19th century, this device was first used in the Ming Dynasty.
It stood like a coffin but was raised on a platform with an iron grate on the bottom instead of a piece of wood. Like the Iron Maiden, this coffin was made of brass or sometimes even iron. But, unlike the iron maiden, it was optional to include spikes or not.
The Chinese Iron Maiden was generally used to punish those who were not loyal to the king but it was also used to set an example for other future wrongdoers. The prisoner would be locked into the coffin and made to stand on the grated bottom. Then, the executioner would pour water onto hot coals that they placed under the grated platform. The mixture of hot coals and cold water would create a cloud of steam that went into the coffin, steaming the person alive.
Pear of Anguish
A pear shaped instrument, consisting of four leaves that slowly separated from each other as the torturer turned the screw at the top.
There is no contemporary first-hand account of those devices or their use. An early mention of a spring-loaded gagging device is in F. de Calvi's L'Inventaire général de l'histoire des larrons ("General inventory of the history of thieves"), written in 1639, which attributes the invention to a robber named Capitaine Gaucherou de Palioly in the days of Henry of Navarre.
Further mentions of the device appear in the 19th century. They are also mentioned in Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) as "Choak Pears," and described as being "formerly used in Holland."
They were also discussed in a book by Eldridge and Watts, superintendent of police and chief inspector of the detective bureau in Boston, Massachusetts (1897). While accepting that ordinary pear-shaped gags exist, they observed that contemporary robbers used no such device as Palioly's Pear and cast doubt upon its very existence in the first place, saying that "fortunately for us this 'diabolical invention' appears to be one of the lost arts, if, indeed, it ever existed outside of de Calvi's head. There is no doubt, however, of the fashioning of a pear-shaped gag which has been largely used in former days by robbers in Europe, and may still be employed to some extent. This is also known as the 'choke-pear', though it is far less marvellous and dangerous than the pear of Palioly."
Though there is little or no evidence of its being used by bandits, there are a number of examples of ornate and elaborate, pear-shaped devices with three or four leaves or lobes, driven by turning a key that rotates the central screw thread, which spreads the leaves. These are generally held in museums devoted to the subject of torture, and are described as instruments of torture by distension or evisceration. Some, but not all, have small spikes of uncertain purpose at the bottom of each leaf. However, these devices do not seem to match the descriptions given by Calvi or the 19th century sources.
This was a form of punishment that was mainly reserved for supposed witches. The victim was tied to a chair which was elevated by ropes above a pond or vat of water. The victim was then lowered into the water until completely submerged. The chair was raised if the victim was about to pass out, or to give the victim a chance to confess. Often, some form of plug or more simply, a piece of fruit, was placed in the victims mouth and nose beforehand, so they couldn't get a good breath before being dunked. If the victim confessed they would most likely be killed. This method was widely used during the Spanish Inquisition and in England and France. Other uses include the Salem Witch Trials in New England, where supposed witches were subjected to varying lengths of time and levels of submergence. The victim was usually intermittently submerged for many hours until he or she revealed information or death had occurred. Ordeal by water began with the witch-hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries. King James VI of Scotland (later also James I of England) claimed in his Daemonologie that water was so pure an element that it repelled the guilty.
While supposed witches were commonly tortured using this method, thieves and murderers could be subjected to it in order to extract a confession. This was more common when other more sophisticated torture devices were not present.
Dunking was also used as punishment for common scolds.
In England, statute 22 passed in 1532 by Henry VIII, made boiling a legal form of capital punishment. It began to be used for murderers who used poisons after the Bishop of Rochester's cook, Richard Rice, gave a number of people poisoned porridge, resulting in two deaths in February 1532. Boiling to death was employed again in 1542 for a woman who also used poison. It was also used for counterfeiters, swindlers and coin forgers during the Middle Ages.
A large Cauldron was filled with water, oil, tar, tallow or molten lead. The liquid was then boiled. Sometimes the victim would be placed in the cauldron before it was boiled so as to be cooked slowly. Or they would be placed, usually head first, into the already boiling liquid.
This was more frequently a way to execute a prisoner rather than to extract a confession.
In the winter, the naked victim was forced to stand outside in full view of everyone. Slowly, the torturer poured water on the victim's head which eventually became frozen, making them die slowly and painfully. Sometimes the body was left for the whole winter to terrify the population and dissuade any further crimes.
In the summer, the person would be coated with a mixture of boiling water and oil while stripped naked, and put out in the sun. They would then burn them to death.
As its name implies, this method consists of exposing a victim to the elements. The victim could be buried up to his neck letting any animals, insects or other people kill him slowly.
In some towns there were chains, stocks or ropes used to quickly restrain someone outside. In very severe cases, the victim was simply left to die of hunger and thirst.
In addition to regular restraint, the gibbet, a large basket made of iron or other metal, with holes large enough for arms and legs, but not for an entire body to fit through, would be hung from a pole with a person inside it. During hot days, the metal would heat, causing pain. During cold days and nights, the chill, as well as lack of protection from the wind, could easily sap a victim's body heat. The holes in the grating were also big enough to allow carrion birds, and the occasional rat, to enter and pluck at a victim's skin and eyes.
Due to its cost efficiency and cruelty, the exposure torture was very widespread in medieval Europe. The victim's remains often served as a warning to the population.
In many cases, the victim was sentenced to a short period of exposure, depending on the crime. However, death was frequent since they were completely defenseless.
A cheap and effective way to torture someone was with the use of rats. There were many variants, but the most common was to force a rat through a victim's body (usually the intestines) as a way to escape. This was done as follows:
- The victim was completely restrained and tied to the ground or any horizontal surface.
- The victim would then have many slits cut in their stomach.
- Then they would place inside the slits starving rats which would eat the victim from the inside.
Gnawing the intestines usually resulted in a few hours of agonizing pain for the victim. This almost always resulted in death.
- Mediaeval Torture Museum in Rüdesheim am Rhein (Mittelalterliches Foltermuseum)
- Peine forte et dure
- Torture Museums
- Torture Chamber
- List of methods of capital punishment (torture devices)
- 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.
- de la Sierra, Joaquin. "Judas Cradle (Torture)". Medieval Times & Castles.
- Kesselring, K.J. (Sep 2001), A Draft of the 1531 'Acte for Poysoning', The English Historical Review Vol. 116, No. 468, pp. 894–899, JSTOR 579196
- Newlin, George (2000), Understanding Great expectations, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, p. 136, ISBN 978-0-313-29940-7, OCLC 41488673
- Leslie, Frank, Frank Leslie, and Ellery Sedgwick. 1876. Frank Leslie's popular monthly. [New York]: Frank Leslie Pub. House. p 343
- Monter, E. William (2007). A bewitched duchy: Lorraine and its dukes, 1477-1736. Librairie Droz. p. 163. ISBN 978-2-600-01165-5.