The 10 Most Gruesome Ancient Torture Methods

Torture methods are known to be brutal ways of enforcing punishment and squeezing out the truth from perpetrators. Its origin dates back to 530 A.D., And throughout the years, people have come up with new ways to perform these torturous acts– probably hoping to obtain the truth efficiently or just to satisfy their sick pleasures. Either way, torture will never NOT be disturbing, so readers should be warned that this list is not for the squeamish or faint of heart. If you think you can handle it, then here’s a list of ancient torture methods that’ll be sure to make your toes curl.

10. Flaying

Gruesome Ancient Torture Methods

Flaying, also known as skinning, was a torture method which originated from 883-859 BC and documented in both carvings and official royal edicts. It was a widespread method which was implemented and documented in various accounts. For example, Neo-Assyrian kings used it to punish rebel leaders. The medieval Europe used it as part of the public execution of traitors. Native Americans flayed their captives to make them suffer for as long as possible. And, Aztecs of Mexico flayed victims as part of their human sacrifice rituals, and many more.

This method of torture was executed in several ways, like; Tying the victim to a pole and peeling his facial skin first, or submerging the victim in boiling water before the flaying. This is a slow and painful execution, with causes of death ranging from blood loss, hypothermia, or infections.

9. Keelhauling

KEELHAULING Gruesome Ancient Torture Methods

Keelhauling, which dates back in 800 B.C. and remained in use up to the 19th century. It was outlined as a naval punishment for sailors in the Rhodian Maritime Code. The condemned sailor’s limbs would be tied and he would be repeatedly plunged beneath the ship’s keel on one side and hoisted up on the other. This usually results in lacerations, infection, and scarring, since the ship’s hull is covered in barnacles. Even if he gets lowered down slowly in order for his body to avoid the barnacles, he would still suffer from possible drowning or a head trauma.

8. The Judas Cradle

Judas Cradle  Ancient Torture Methods

The Judas Cradle is a stool-shaped torture device with a pyramid structure on top. Using this method of torture would require the victim to be stripped and suspended above the device. He would then be lowered very slowly, the pyramid opening his anal orifice and slowly impaling him. The victim would either be rocked or dropped repeatedly onto the device, and the torture would usually be prolonged into several days. The device is rarely washed, so the victim either dies from impalement or infection. Aside from inflicting agonizing pain, one of the main purposes of this method was to inflict severe humiliation upon the victim.

7. The Impalement

IMPALEMENT Gruesome Ancient Torture Methods

Impalement was the act of penetrating a sharp stake through the body. The victim would be laid down on his belly with his hands tied behind his back and his rectum would be slit up by a razor, after which a paste would be applied to stop the bleeding before a stake would be thrusted into his body. The stake would be hammered in with a mallet, and it would come out at either his breast, head, or shoulders. He would then be planted straight on the ground and left for exposure. Survival time would vary from a few minutes to several days, depending on how the stake was inserted.

A notable figure who enjoyed this method of torture was the Prince of Wallachia, Vlad III. He was known for his harsh punishments upon his enemies, especially those who had betrayed his family and took advantage of the misfortunes of Wallachia. Though other methods of torture were used, Vlad III has been mostly associated with impalement, earning him the title “Vlad the Impaler”.

6. Pressing

Pressing-Gruesome Ancient Torture Methods

Pressing as a form of punishment dates back to the 13th century in England. In this method, the victim is stripped naked and tied down to the ground. A wooden board would be placed on the victim’s chest and abdomen and heavy stones or iron weights would be gradually placed on top of the board, slowly suffocating the victim. The victim’s bones would be crushed and would sometimes burst through the skin.

This form of execution became famous when Giles Corey, an American farmer charged with witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. He was executed by pressing. Corey refused to enter a plea and only asked for “more weights” during the torture. He eventually died after two days of being pressed.

5. The Blood Eagle

The Blood Eagle Ancient Torture Methods

The Blood Eagle is a haunting form of execution used by the Vikings. And, it was described as one of the most cruel and graphic torture methods ever used. Although there’s no exact date as to its origins. This torture method apparently had a long tradition in Scandinavia and a couple of direct accounts were mentioned in old skaldic poems.

The method’s interpretation was that the skin of the victim’s back was flayed and pried open like wings. The ribs are then detached from the backbone. And the lungs would be ripped out and spread over the ribs, making them look like wings. This would result to the body looking like a spread eagle, thus the name of the torture method. Some of the accounts detailing Blood Eagle claim that it was used mainly for revenge and sometimes, pure contempt.

4. Scaphism

Scaphism Gruesome Ancient Torture Methods

Scaphism was a Persian method of execution. It involved trapping the naked victim within two, narrow boats joined together with his head, hands, and feet protruding. The victim would be forced to ingest milk and honey, eventually causing diarrhea. He would be left to float on a pond, with his accumulated feces and honey-covered body attracting insects which would eat and breed within his exposed flesh. The victim would be repeatedly fed and covered with the honey mixture in order to prolong the torture. His prolonged exposure and his flesh rotting away due to his own filth and the insects devouring him would eventually lead to his horrifying demise.

3. The Catherine Wheel

Catherine Wheel

The Catherine Wheel, or the Breaking Wheel, was a method used for public execution through the Middle Ages, with the last known execution believed to have taken place in Prussia in 1841. The method was done by breaking the criminal’s bones and bludgeoning them to death. The convicted would be taken to a public stage and tied on the floor. The executioner would then use a large wooden spiked wheel to mutilate the convict’s body, starting from his legs. Sometimes, the executioner would be instructed to aim for the convict’s heart or neck to cause immediate death. But if not, the executioner would proceed with the second act, which is braiding the convict’s broken body into another wheel. The wheel would be erected like a pole, and the executioner would be permitted to decapitate the convict.

The namesake for this torture was the Christian martyr, Saint Catherine. She refused to renounce her faith and was sentenced to death by being bludgeoned on a spiked wheel. But it was supposedly shattered due to her ‘divinity’. She was subsequently executed by decapitation.

2. The Rat torture

Rat torture

Rat torture was first documented in 17th century Europe during the Dutch Revolt, with the technique being used against captured prisoners. This nasty torture method uses rats to torment the victim by forcing the rodents to gnaw their way into the human’s flesh. Usually, a cage filled with rats would be placed on top of the restrained victim’s stomach. Then the inquisitor would heat up the other end of the cage, leaving the panicked rats with no choice but to eat their way out through the victim’s flesh. The victim would suffer hours of agonizing pain as the rats dig a hole through his body, after which he would inevitably die. This method was allegedly used in the 20th century by Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet. He used rat torture, along with other methods, to punish his political enemies and sexually assault his prisoners.

1. Lingchi

Slow Slicing

Lingchi, also known as death by a thousand cuts, was a form of execution used in China from around 900 AD until it was banned in 1905. It was believed that Lingchi was a punishment that the accused would have to carry even in the afterlife, where he would not be whole even after death. The method was done by tying the victim in a wooden frame and then cutting the flesh in varied, multiple and non-deadly slices. The executioner would not make the victim bleed too much in order to prolong the torture before the final and fatal cut to the throat or heart would be made.

In some accounts, there were cuts that numbered to 100 (Yuan Dynasty) and some were over 3,000 (Ming Dynasty). There were accounts that described it as a slow and brutal process. While some claimed that it was a fast procedure which lasted from 15 to 20 minutes. Since the victim would most likely lose consciousness after one or two severe wounds. There were no accurate details of how this method of execution was carried out. But some argue that there was a degree of dismemberment, and there were times when the subsequent cuts were carried out after the victim’s death as a form of public humiliation.