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[1] as recently as the early 19th Century. The allegation is contained in the book The history of the Inquisition of Spain (1826) by the Spanish priest, historian and liberal activist Juan Antonio Llorente.[2] A swinging pendulum whose edge is a knife blade slowly descends toward a bound prisoner until it cuts into his body.[3] The method of torture came to popular consciousness through the 1842 short story "The Pit and the Pendulum" by American author Edgar Allan Poe[4] but there is considerable skepticism that it actually was used.


The victim was first bound to a wooden bench with ropes so that it was impossible for him to move. Above the victim was a crescent-shaped blade suspended from a rod which swung back and forth as a pendulum. Gradually the bar to which the swinging 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 was lowered until it began cutting through the victim's torso. Eventually, the victim would be cleaved in two.


Most knowledgeable sources are skeptical that this torture was ever actually used.[5][6][7] The only evidence of its use is one paragraph in the preface to Llorente's 1822 History,[2] relating a second-hand account by a single prisoner released from the Inquisition's Madrid dungeon in 1820, who purportedly described the pendulum torture method. Modern sources point out that due to Jesus' admonition against bloodshed, Inquisitors were only allowed to use torture methods which did not spill blood, and the pendulum method would have violated this stricture. One theory is that Llorente misunderstood the account he heard; the prisoner was actually referring to another common Inquisition torture, the strappado (garrucha), in which the prisoner has his hands tied behind his back and is hoisted off the floor by a rope tied to his hands, until his shoulders dislocated.[7] Poe's popular horror tale, and public awareness of the Inquisition's other barbaric methods, has kept the myth of this elaborate torture method alive.

See also[edit]

List of methods of torture


  1. ^ Scott, George Ryley (2009). The History Of Torture Throughout the Ages. Routledge. p. 242. ISBN 1136191607. 
  2. ^ a b Llorente, Juan Antonio (1826). The history of the Inquisition of Spain. Abridged and translated by George B. Whittaker. Oxford University. pp. XX, preface. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ Poe, Edgar Allan (1842). The Pit and the Pendulum. Booklassic. ISBN 9635271905. 
  5. ^ Roth, Cecil (1964). The Spanish Inquisition. W. W. Norton and Company. p. 258. ISBN 0-393-00255-1. 
  6. ^ Mannix, Daniel P. (2014). The History of Torture. eNet Press. p. 76. ISBN 1-61886-751-2. 
  7. ^ a b Pavlac, Brian (2009). Witch Hunts in the Western World: Persecution and Punishment from the Inquisition through the Salem Trials. ABC-CLIO. p. 152. ISBN 0-313-34874-X. 


  • 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)