The worst medieval torture devices and methods of execution. These grotesque inventions were used in the middle ages to cause pain and suffering to many poor people. They were designed to cause so much agony that the victims would beg for their own deaths.
1. Chinese Water Torture
This is generally considered the worst method of torture. You would be strapped down so that you couldn’t move at all and then cold water was dripped slowly on to a small area of your body, usually your forehead. After a long time, this would supposedly drive you insane. However, in reality, nobody knows if this torture method actually works. Despite the name, it was almost certainly never used in China. According to some sources, it was used briefly during the 17th Century in Italy as a torture for witches and sorcerers.
2. Iron Maiden
This torture device looked like an iron sarcophagus with a hinged front door. The inside was covered with long sharp spikes. You would be placed inside the Iron Maiden and as the doors closed, you would be impaled by the metal spikes. Two spikes were positioned specifically to penetrate the eyes. In the 1800s, researchers found one in a castle in Nuremberg, Germany, but Iron Maidens are very rare and historians doubt that they were ever actually used as torture devices in the Middle Ages.
3. Blood Eagle
The Blood Eagle was a method of torture that was used by the Vikings. It was mainly done for shock value. The skin on your back would be sliced open, exposing your ribcage. Your ribs would be snapped and pulled back, making it look like you had blood-stained wings. Then, your lungs would be dragged out and left hanging outside your body while you slowly suffocated.
4. Brazen Bull
The Brazen Bull (or Sicilian Bull) was designed in ancient Greece. It was a solid piece of brass cast in the shape of a bull. It also had a door on the side that could be opened and latched. The victim would be placed inside the bull and a fire set underneath it until the metal became literally yellow as it was heated. The victim would then be slowly roasted to death all while screaming in agonizing pain. The shape of the bronze bull was purposely designed to amplify these screams and make them sound like the bellowing of a bull.
5. Rat Torture
This is one of the most disgusting and sadistic torture methods ever dreamed up. The victim was tied down so that they were unable to move. An upside-down cage containing a rat was placed on their stomach. Hot coals were placed on top of the cage. When the cage began to heat up, the rat would desperately try to escape. With nowhere else to go, the rat would end up chewing and burrowing through the victim’s body.
This method of execution was mainly practiced in ancient times, but it is still used in some countries today. It is a deliberately slow and painful death. Your hands and feet are nailed to a large wooden cross. Then, the cross is erected and you are left to hang there until you die, which usually takes days. You either die from dehydration or, because of the way your arms are positioned, restricting your ability to breathe, you die of slow suffocation. This is the way Jesus Christ is believed to have been executed.
7. Catherine Wheel
The Catherine Wheel (or the Breaking Wheel) is a torture device used to slowly kill the victim. You would be tied to the spokes of a large wooden wheel. Then, the wheel would be slowly rotated as the torturer smashed your arms and legs with an iron hammer. After all your bones were broken, you would be left on the wheel to die or else you could be placed on top of a tall pole so the birds could peck at your flesh while you were still alive. It could take days for you to die from dehydration. Sometimes, a “coups de grace” (“blow of mercy” or “fatal blow”) was delivered by the executioner on the victim’s chest or stomach to end their agony.
8. Hanged, Drawn and Quartered
During medieval times, the penalty for high treason in England was to be hanged, drawn and quartered in public and though it was abolished in 1814, thousands of people suffered this torture. To begin with, the victim is dragged in a wooden frame called a hurdle to the place of execution. Stage 1 – Hanging: The victim would be hanged by the neck for a short period of time until they were near-death. Stage 2 – Drawing: The victim was disemboweled and their entrails were burned in front of them. Stage 3 – Quartering: The victim’s body was chopped into four separate parts and beheaded. This was used on Scottish Rebel William Wallace in the movie Braveheart.
9. Chinese Bamboo Torture
Bamboo grows fast. REALLY fast. Sometimes it can grow as much as 3 feet in one day. The tips of growing bamboo shoots were cut to make them as sharp as a spear. The victim was then suspended horizontally above the bamboo and left to hang there. As the bamboo grew, the sharpened tips would pierce through the victim’s skin. As it continued to grow, it would slice right through the body, ultimately causing one of the most painful deaths ever inflicted. MythBusters investigated bamboo torture in a 2008 episode and found that a bamboo shoot can penetrate through several inches of ballistic gelatin in three days.
Being flayed alive was a torture method used on witches, captured enemy soldiers and criminals. Your hands were tied above your head and the torturer would use a small razor-sharp knife to slice all the skin off your body, starting with your face.
11. Head Crusher
The head crusher was a big metal vice. Your chin was placed on the bottom bar, and the metal cap was placed over your head. As the torturer turned the screw, the vice would crush your skull. After a while, the pressure would be so intense that your teeth would shatter and your eyes would pop out of your skull.
12. Saw Torture
In this torture method, your feet would be tied separately and you would be hung upside-down. Then, the torturers would put a long saw between your legs and start sawing your body in half. Sometimes, the torturers would stop half-way through, just to prolong your agony.
13. The Rack
The rack was a wooden device that was designed to dislocate every joint in your body. It was believed to be the most painful form of medieval torture. The rack itself was a wooden frame with two ropes or chains at the bottom and two ropes tied to a handle at the top. You would be placed lying down on the rack and your hands and feet would be tied. The torturer would turn the handle and you would be stretched until your limbs where dislocated. Sometimes, the torturer would continue to turn the handle until your arms and legs were completely torn off.
14. The Judas Cradle
This was a very gruesome punishment. Ropes would be tied to your legs and you had to sit on a pyramid-shaped cradle. The executioners would drag the ropes down, forcing you down on the pyramid. Over a long period of time, the pyramid would slowly go up your butt, impaling you.
In 15th century Romania, this was Vlad the Impaler’s favorite method of execution. The victim was forced to sit on a sharp and thick pole. When the pole was then raised upright, the victim was left to slide down the pole with their own weight. It could take the victim 3 days to die using this method and sometimes, if done correctly, the pole would go all the way through the body and come out the mouth. According to legend, Vlad the Impaler once did this to 20,000 people and sat there enjoying a meal as he watched them die.
Though there are many variations of this torture device, the thumbscrew or ‘pilliwinks’ all function the same. They were designed to slowly crush not only the fingers and toes, but larger devices were also used to crush knees and elbows.
17. Spanish Donkey
This was one of the torture devices used during the Spanish Inquisition. It is probably one of the most gruesome torture devices of all. You would be stripped naked and put sitting on a wooden board with a sharp V-wedge on top of it. After that, the torturer would attach heavier and heavier weights to the victim’s feet until finally the wedge would slice through the victim’s body.
18. Breast Ripper
This torture device was specifically designed to be used on women. It was popular in France and Germany. The claws were heated util they were red hot and then they were stuck into the woman’s exposed breast. The torturer would then pull on the device, causing large chunks of flesh to come off with it and causing major blood loss.
19. Crocodile Shears
Often used to mutilate those who would attempt to assassinate the king, this iron pincer was heated red-hot before being used to clamp down on the victim’s appendages and tearing them from their bodies.
20. Heretic Fork
This torture device consisted of a metal piece with two opposed bi-pronged forks attached to a belt or strap. One end of the device was pushed under the chin, the other to the sternum, and the strap was used to secure the victim’s neck to the tool while the victim hung from the ceiling or was somehow suspended so that they could not sleep. If their heads dropped, the prongs would pierce their throat and chest.
Usually filled with molten lead, tar, boiling water or boiling oil, it was used to torture victims by dripping the contents onto their stomach or other body parts like the eyes. Using this device the torturer would proceed to pour molten silver on the victim’s eyes which resulted in agonizing pain and eventual death.
Also known as the Judas Chair, it was a terrible, intimidating torture device that was added to dungeons in the Middle Ages. Used until the 1800′s in Europe, this chair was layered with 500 to 1,500 spikes on every surface with tight straps to restrain its victim. Made of iron, it can also contain spaces for heating elements beneath the seat. It was often used to scare people into giving confessions as they watched others being tortured on the device.
This method involved placing the victim inside a metal cage roughly the size of the human body. The cage was hung from a tree or gallows and you would be left there until to starve to death and after you died, the crows would come to feast on your remains. In the Middle Ages, this was a popular method used to punish pirates.
The victim would see how long they could stand on their tip-toes before they would fall back and get spikes jammed into their heel. This was used a torturing device during the medieval ages.
Humiliating and painful, this punishment was something of an endurance test where the victim would be hooked into a neck device, either made of metal or wood, which prevented the victim from adjusting into a comfortable position. The cruelty of this punishment lie within the fact that they were unable to lie down, eat, or lower their head for days!
Sand Paper Floor Room
This is the most diabolical torture device ever invented. It has never been used and was dreamed up by somebody on the internet. The victim is placed, completely naked, in a metal room with no way out. The floor of the room is a slow-moving conveyor belt of sand paper. The victim has to keep walking to avoid being scraped. Eventually, they will get tired and pass out. Then, they would get pinned against the wall and the sandpaper would begin to scrape off their flesh.
Somebody had a suggestion to make it even worse: “If you put two best friends or family members in there, one of them would eventually go crazy, kill the other one and then lie down on their dead body to get some sleep…”
Of course, somebody else had the worst suggestion of all: “Modify this so the room is about 30 meters long. There is a door at the end that leads to your freedom. There is someone in a room watching you and they are toying with you, increasing or decreasing the speed, so you can never actually reach the door. Because there is no true despair without hope…”