Capital punishment has a long history and it’s only since 1936 that we no longer hang people in public. Before that, killing people in front of large crowds of bloodthirsty gawkers used to be the norm because execution wasn’t simply a punishment, it was designed to be a deterrent where everyone could see what was happening. In the old world, execution often served the sole purpose of horrifying the community. If that’s not odd enough to think about in 2015 then throw in an elephant and imagine being able to go and see any one of these execution methods taking place right near your house.
1. Use An Elephant
In Southeast Asia and India in particular, royals had ready and trained “execution elephants” for dispatching criminals or, well, whomever that particular royal didn’t like. There were several ways that the elephants could kill their victims. Stamping/crushing was of course the first and most immediately understandable one but goring repeatedly was another with “pin down with food and pull legs off with trunk” being the last. Elephants used as executioners had to be well trained although how a trainer would practice this without a victim is anyone’s guess.
Most importantly for the royals, elephant execution was considered superior to the Roman method of throwing people to the lions by those that practiced it because training was involved. [Source]
2. The Blood Eagle
Allegedly used by Vikings as a way of humiliating and horrifying their foes on the battlefield and off it, the Blood Eagle consisted of cutting the skin off the back in the shape of an eagle. The ribs of the doomed individuals where then broken through and the lungs pulled outward and spread out along the sides of the victim’s back so that they resembled the wings of an eagle. Their last raspy breaths would then cause the lungs to move in such a way that it resembled the movement of an eagle’s wings. All this was done while the person was still living, of course.
In Nordic legend, this was done as a ritualistic offering as well although there’s some question about whether or not this practice truly existed or whether early Christian scholars simply didn’t correctly translate the text of the Nordic poems where the practice is described. Other scholars insist that the practice did take place and that the texts support this.
Regardless, brutal. [Source]
This execution method spans the entire globe from Native Americans using it to burn people to death in front of the entire tribe to Europeans burning witches in front of the church surrounded by a mob. However, unlike their European counterparts, some Native American tribes essentially roasted their victims rather than simply burning them in a giant fire, adding bits of wood over time to prolong the process as long as possible.
Spanish conquistadors later perfected this method by placing a large metal grate over a fire which they would slowly fan until the person tied to it eventually screamed their last and expired. Think about that the next time you grill out.
And lastly, who could forget the Athenian execution device known as the Brazen Bull, a method of roasting a victim alive so perverse that the man who invented it was ordered to be its first victim. The bull itself was forged out of bronze with a hollow belly and a door on the side. A victim was placed inside the bull and a fire was built beneath them. As they roasted alive, the throat and mouth of the bull were built such that the screams of the dying person inside sounded like the bellow of a bull rather than a human scream.
Burning a person to death is still with us today although uncommon.
You’ve seen these in movies and tv shows but likely never really knew what they were. Gibbeting combined prolonged public shaming with the magic of crime deterrence or so the theory went. Initially, gibbeting was used as a public execution method where the sentenced would be locked into the cage and exhibited publicly as they died of thirst over the next three days. Their body was then left to decompose so that everyone would be horrified by it and not do whatever they had been accused of doing.
Later, live gibbeting all but stopped and the dead bodies of previously executed people would be placed in the gibbet for the same purpose but, presumably, having suffered a quicker death than they otherwise would have.
Imagine if you will walking down the streets of whatever city or town you live in and seeing four or five of these staggered along the main street full of begging and dying individuals and then, days later, seeing them filled with the dead and rotting corpses of those same people stinking and cooking in the sun. Then, months later and only after the crows, the flies, and the vultures had picked the body clean, would they finally be taken down.
Impossible to ignore and absolutely intimidating.
Fun fact, legend has it that the last gibbeting occurred in England sometime in the 1800s in Derbyshire and that the reason it was the last is because the Duke of Devonshire could get any sleep since the condemned kept screaming at all hours. [Source]
Wow, this ancient Persian method of execution is both creative and grotesque. Lasting longer than any other method of execution in this list, scaphism involved pinning the damned individual between two very small row boats which are bolted together with only his head and feet exposed. He is then fed milk and honey until he develops diarrhea. Additionally, the honey is spread all over his face. This can be hard to visualize so here’s a link to a picture of it.
There are variation on this where honey is also spread over the anus of the victim. The diarrhea, the milk and honey, both attract insects which feed on the flesh of the victim. Very often the boats are then placed in a swampy area where there are even more insects. It takes days and days to die this way, literally having been eaten from the inside out and on full display to everyone.
This practice didn’t have to involve boats, however. It could be done nearly just as well by pinning the victim to a stake out in a swamp. [Source]
Another method of public execution still fairly common in certain, shall we say, backward parts of the world. Stoning has a long history and is notable for being the only public execution method on this list in which the onlookers are encouraged to carry out the execution themselves. In addition to serving the purpose of executing someone, stoning also absolves each participant of individual guilt since the victim isn’t killed by one person but by the efforts of many.
The Old Testament is especially full of stoning accounts and the Jewish Talmud includes a list of offenses that one could be stoned to death for. Here they are.
- one who has had relations with his mother – הבא על האם
- with his father’s wife – ועל אשת האב
- with his daughter-in-law – ועל הכלה
- a human male with a human male – ועל הזכור
- or with cattle – ועל הבהמה
- and the same is the case with a woman who uncovers herself before cattle – והאשה המביאה את הבהמה
- with a blasphemer – והמגדף
- an idolater – והעובד עבודת כוכבים
- he who sacrifices one of his children to Molech – והנותן מזרעו למולך
- one that occupies himself with familiar spirits – ובעל אוב
- a wizard – וידעוני
- one who violates Sabbath – והמחלל את השבת
- one who curses his father or mother – והמקלל אביו ואמו
- one who has assaulted a betrothed damsel – והבא על נערה המאורסה
- a seducer who has seduced men to worship idols – והמסית
- and the one who misleads a whole town – והמדיח
- a witch (male or female) – והמכשף
- a stubborn and rebellious son – ובן סורר ומורה”
Stoning has been practiced recently in places like Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan although it’s illegal in all these countries. Surveys of countries in the Middle East and some African countries show a distinct pro-stoning attitude and of course ISIS is all about stoning people and a pregnant woman was stoned to death in Pakistan in 2014.
Here is where stoning still happens.