10 Most Brutal Execution Methods of Ancient Civilization

Throughout the history, there have been many awful, horrendous methods of killing criminals, enemies, or undesirables. This particular article discusses the most brutal execution methods that were used by the earliest of civilizations. Thankfully, most of them are now banned.

10. Crucifixion

Brutal Execution Methods

Crucifixion was among the most gruesome and painful of ancient execution methods and was practiced from about the 6th century BC until the 4th century AD, mainly among the Seleucids, Carthaginians, Persians and Romans. The condemned person was tied (or nailed) to a large wooden cross and left to hang till dead. The prisoner would usually just bleed to death, if not that he would die by hunger or thirst. Most of the times if the prisoner was lucky, he would just die by severe cold or heat. This practise is principally known from antiquity, but remains in occasional use in some countries.

9. Flaying

Flaying punishment

Flaying is one of the most brutal and uncivilized method of torture and punishment practiced during the Middle Ages. Brutal to the bone, it involved removing the skin from the body of a still living prisoner. After the skin was removed, the condemned would be thrown to bleed to death. Added ingredients like salt was also used to increase the pain exponentially. This was a public method of execution, inflicted on criminals, captured soldiers and ‘witches’ around a thousand years ago in places such as the Middle East and Africa.

8. Breaking Wheel

Breaking Wheel Brutal Execution Methods

The breaking wheel, also known as the ‘Catherine wheel’, was a torture device used for capital punishment. It was used during the Middle Ages and was still in use in the 19th century. It originated in Ancient Greece and from there spread through other countries such as France, Russia, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Sweden. A wooden wheel was used to stretch the victim out, with their limbs extended along its many spokes. Then a hammer or a large iron bar was applied to the limb through the gap to break all its bones. This process usually took a very long time. Usually a person would be left alive with every limb in his or her body, broken.

7. Disembowelment

Disembowelment Brutal Execution Methods

Disembowelment may result from an accident but has also been used as a method of torture and execution. It was among the most severe forms of punishments ever heard. This method was used to punish thieves and those accused of adultery. Some or all the vital organs were removed one by one from the body, mainly from the abdomen. Sources say it was practiced in England, the Netherlands, Belgium and in Japan.

6. Impalement


If you was the Dracula of 15th century Romania, you simply impaled your victims by forcing them to sit on a sharp and thick pole. The pole was then raised upright and the victim was left to slide further down the pole by his or her own weight. This was among the most revolting of punishments ever imagined and practiced by humans. It was a favorite of the Romans, Chinese, Greeks and the Turks. It was also practiced in Asia and in Europe during the Middle Ages.

One of the most horrifying methods of execution. The victim was pierced through the rectum, through the vagina, through the side or even through the mouth, causing deep bleeding and painful wounds. They were then dropped into their own grave. The victim endured a long period of continued suffering before their death. Though it was rarely practiced, but was truly horrifying.

5. Crushing

death by Crushing

Death by crushing or pressing is a forceful execution method that has an extensive history, with several varying methods used through time. One of them was ‘Crushing by Elephants’, which was used throughout south and south-east Asia for over 4,000 years. Sources say it was also used by Romans as well as by the Nguyen Dynasty in Vietnam.

The condemned would be tied up with his head on a stone or a slightly extruded surface. The head was crushed by a highly trained elephant, who would slowly exert pressure on the head. The condemned would feel all the horrors of his frightful death before taking his last breath. In another method, the victim was pressed with extremely large and heavy stones laid upon their chest, causing suffocation and then death.

4. Death by Burning

Death by burning Brutal Execution Methods

Another gruesome method of execution mainly practiced in Rome, in Akragas in Sicily, in England, and in some part of North America too. As the title explains what the punishment is all about but one thing to know is that the burning wasn’t just haphazard. The condemned’s body would burn progressively in the following sequence: calves, thighs and hands, torso and forearms, breasts, upper chest, face; and then finally death. It was extremely painful, although sometimes the person died from carbon monoxide poisoning before the fire even touched their calves. Pitch was also applied to the person’s body, which helped the fire to burn quicker and make the process faster.

3. Death by Sawing

death by sawing

Death by sawing was a method of execution reportedly used in different parts of the world, for example in Europe under the Roman Empire, in Spain, and in parts of Asia. Using this method, the condemned would usually be hung upside down with the legs apart. The saw would then slowly be driven through the entire body, eventually cutting the head in two. The person condemned usually wouldn’t die until the saw reached the head.

2. Hanged, Drawn and Quartered

Brutal Execution Methods of Ancient Civilization

Used mainly in England, it is widely considered to be one of the most brutal execution methods ever devised. As the name implies it came in three parts. Convicts were fastened to a hurdle, or wooden panel, and drawn by horse to the place of execution, where they were hanged (almost to the point of death), emasculated, disembowelled, beheaded and quartered (chopped into four pieces). Their remains were often displayed in prominent places across the country, such as London Bridge. For reasons of public decency, women convicted of high treason were instead burnt at the stake. This punishment was only used on men for any convicted woman would generally be burnt at the stake as a matter of decency.

1. Slow Slicing (Lingchi)

Lingchi Brutal Execution Methods

Also known as the “lingering death”, or “death by a thousand cuts” and in China as Lingchi, was a common method for executing criminals back in the 900 AD and was usually practiced in China. In this form of execution, a knife was used to methodically remove portions of the body over an extended period of time, eventually leading to their death. Lingchi was reserved for crimes viewed as especially severe, such as treason, mass murder, patricide or the murder of one’s master or employer. Emperors used it to threaten people and sometimes ordered it for minor offenses. Some emperors meted out this punishment to the family members of their enemies.

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