Torture Methods From History That Will Make You Wince

Margie Jones

human skeleton in steel cage for torture
human skeleton in steel cage for torture

Think some of the deaths in ‘Game of Thrones’ are bad? Turns out there’s no need for a fictional land of dragons and red witches for things to get gnarly — our own history has plenty of gruesome torture to go round.

Take the tub, for example. (Disclaimer: do NOT read on if you are a queasy person.)

The Tub

A particularly drawn-out and horrible way to die, ‘the tub’ saw someone being placed into a tub with only their head and neck emerging. The executioner would then paint their face with milk and honey to attract flies.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough, the person in the tub would be fed regularly until they ended up swimming in their own excrement. Death would come by way of the maggots and worms that would eat their body alive.

Death by rats

If you think the tub sounds bad, we’re not even onto rat torture yet.

Used in medieval times, rat torture involved strapping a cage full of — you guessed it, rats — to the side of a victim’s body. The executioner would then use a device to heat up one side of the cage, which causes the rats instinctively to flee.

The only way out? Through the person’s body.

Coffin torture

Also a favourite of medieval times, this method saw a victim being stripped naked and locked inside a cage roughly the same size as their body. Then the cage was hung somewhere prominent, like the city walls, and the person was left there to die from hunger, thirst or the elements, and their body would be picked apart by birds and insects.

The rack

The fact this device is known as one of the most painful forms of torture ever is really saying something. Actually designed to dislocate joints, the rack was essentially a wooden frame with a roller at both ends.

Ropes would be attached to the roller and to the victims wrists and ankles. By turning a handle, the torturer would be able to tighten the tautness of the ropes and ‘stretch’ the victim across the rack, literally pulling his limbs in opposite directions until joints were separated and dislocated (said to cause a gross ‘popping’ sound as they did.)

Some would go so far as to rip the limbs off the victim entirely, causing death.

The Catherine wheel

This uncomfortable and slow form of punishment saw a victim being strapped to the spokes of a large wheel before being beaten as he or she was rotated around and around.

The beating was performed with an iron hammer in order to break as many bones as possible.

After the beating was over, the victim would be left strapped to the wheel until they died, either from dehydration or being eaten alive by birds and insects.

Saw torture

You know anything involving a saw isn’t going to be pretty, right?

This gruesome form of torture involved a victim behind strapped into an upside-down position, so all the blood would rush to their head, prolonging consciousness as long as possible.

The torturer would then saw through the body until the person was literally cut in half.

Hanged, drawn and quartered

Anyone who has seen ‘Braveheart’ will know this is not a good way to go.

The process is exactly as the name suggests, in that the victim is first hanged by the neck until they are almost dead, before they are cut down again.

Then they are disemboweled and castrated before their genitals are burned before their eyes. Finally, they are cut up into quarters and beheaded.

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