Pendulum (torture device)

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The pendulum was an instrument of torture and execution claimed to have been used by the Spanish Inquisition as recently as the early 19th Century. The allegation is contained in the book The history of the Inquisition of Spain by the Spanish priest, historian and liberal activist Juan Antonio Llorente.[1] Although invented to cause maximum pain, the pendulum's primary function was to induce psychological fear into the victim, thereby extracting a quick confession.[2] This method of torture was described by the 1842 short story "The Pit and the Pendulum" by American author Edgar Allan Poe. It was also shown in the film Saw V.

Operation of the pendulum[edit]

The victim was first secured to a wooden bench with ropes so that it was impossible for him to move. Above the victim was a crescent-shaped blade which would begin swinging to and fro. Gradually the bar to which the blade was attached would be lowered bringing it closer and closer to the victim's abdomen. It would usually be at this point that the victim would confess. If no confession was made, the blade would continue to lower until it began cutting through the victim's torso. Eventually, the victim would be cleaved in two.


There has been much debate between historians as to whether the pendulum was ever used or whether it was simply invented by Edgar Allan Poe for his story "The Pit and the Pendulum". The Discovery Channel produced a program called Death Machines[3] in which a replica pendulum was built and put to the test on a dummy. The results were inconclusive. However, a History Channel program called Surviving History featured an experiment with a larger-scale replica, which showed that the pendulum could conceivably work.[4]


  1. ^ Llorente, Juan Antonio (1826). The history of the Inquisition of Spain. Preface, footnote
  2. ^ Abbott, Geoffrey (2006). Execution: The Guillotine, the Pendulum, the Thousand Cuts, the Spanish Donkey, and 66 Other Ways of Putting Someone to Death. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-35222-6. 
  3. ^ Death Machines Retrieved on 21 October 2011
  4. ^ Surviving History: The Pendulum, The History Channel, Retrieved 9 May 2011


  • E. A. Poe, "The Pit And The Pendulum" (Carey & Hart, 1843)
  • G. Abbott, "Execution: A Guide To The Ultimate Penalty" (Summersdale, 2005)
  • G. Abbott, "Rack, Rope & Red-Hot Pincers" (Eric Dobby Publishing, 2002)
  • G. R. Scott, "A History Of Torture" (Bracken Books, 1994)

See also[edit]

List of methods of torture