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Torture has been around for nearly as long as humans have. Torture has been used as punishment, methods of execution, and as a means of obtaining information.

Here are some painful and creative ways people have been tortured in the past.


33. Fork Me

The Heretic Forks were a two pronged, double sided fork with a collar strapped to the middle. The collar was placed around a victim’s neck, with one end of the fork pressed under the chin, and the other above the collarbone. The torture forced the victim to keep their chin up, or risk piercing their chin and throat.  It was only removed when the wearer spoke the words “I recant.” We recant even.

Ancient Torture Facts

32. Necking

Neck torture often involved a collar with spikes on the inside that was placed around a victim’s neck, rendering them unable to move their necks or risk being pricked.  The victim was made to wear the collar for days on end, enduring unbearable cruelty.

Ancient Torture Facts

31. Tight Lipped

The Scold’s Bridal was an iron masked used to punish those accused of infidelity, prostitution, or witchcraft. The mask would wrap around parts of the head, with a spiked mouthpiece that would prevent the wearer from speaking. Best to just keep your mouth shut with this one.

Ancient Torture Facts

30. All Thumbs

The Thumb Screw was a vice like device used to crush the fingers and toes of torture victims. Though the device has not stood the test of time, the name has. Thumb screws are now screws with wide, flat, horn like protrusions on the head, resembling the letter Y. They’re called thumb screws because you can tighten and loosen them with your thumb and index finger.

Ancient Torture Facts

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29. Been A While

Crocodile shears were crocodile shaped pliers that were heated and used to tear appendages from their victims. The shears were reserved specifically for those caught trying to assassinate the king. The name is likely a play on words, rhyming closely with crocodile tears, which are used to describe a false expression of remorse.

Ancient Torture Facts

28. Chest Pain

One particular torture method was devised specifically for women, called the breast ripper. The pronged tongs would be used to pierce the mammary glands on a woman, and tear the flesh away. If the victim didn’t die of blood loss or infection, they would be horrifically scarred.

Ancient Torture Facts

27. False Hope

Particularly cruel, the lead sprinkler was made to look like a holy water sprinkler, often lulling victims into thinking they were finally being pardoned and forgiven. Instead, the sprinkler was usually filled molten lead or boiling liquids, horribly burning the victim and disfiguring them for life were they to survive the incident.

Ancient Torture Facts

26. Tongue Twister

Tongue torture has had many names throughout history, but all have had the same purpose, removing a person’s tongue. Plier shaped tools were used to firmly grip the tongue and either rip or cut it from the person’s mouth. Say no more, please.

Ancient Torture Facts

Sir Ilyn Payne, the executioner without a tongue in Game of Thrones.

25. Big Mouth

The appropriately named Pear of Anguish was a pear shaped device that was designed to expand when a screw at the top end was tightened. The pear was inserted into the victim’s mouth, and made to expand until the victim’s mouth was mutilated. Probably made it hard to keep a secret.

Ancient Torture Facts - Pear of Anguish

24. Take A Knee

The Knee Splitter was a vice like device with spikes on the inside surface. It would be fastened around the front and back of the victim’s knee, and tightened until the spikes met in the middle, destroying the knee. The trauma wasn’t always lethal but victims ran a high risk for infections.

Ancient Torture Facts

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23. Hang Out

Coffin torture involved restraining a person in a cage coffin, and leaving them to hang vertically in the open. While this torture rarely ended in death, victims suffered mental distress as they were often abused, verbally and physically by the locals while confined.

Ancient Torture Facts

It didn’t end well for this guy…

22. Heads Up

The guillotine was one of the more humane ways of executing people. The victim’s head was placed in a stockade at the end of a wooden bed, and a sharp blade would be dropped on the victim’s neck, decapitating them. It’s rumored that the death was so quick, the victim’s head was still alive for a few seconds after being severed.

21. Ball And Chain

During the French revolution, the Republican Marriage was often reserved for priests and nuns. The victims would be bound together, and thrown in water to drown. Where water wasn’t available, the couple was impaled by a bayonet or spear. Gives ’til death do us part a new meaning.

Ancient Torture Facts

20. Heavy Subject

One simple form of execution was slowly crushing a person, either with large stones or even large trained animals like Elephants. The person was made to lie down and then stones were laid upon them one by one until the victim was eventually crushed. In the instances where trained animals were involved, many times the animals were trained crush the victims slowly to ensure a long, painful death.Ancient Torture Facts

19. Don Quixote

During the Spanish inquisition, the Spanish Donkey was a tool used to get confessions from “heretics.” The large wedge shaped “horse” or “donkey” would have a victim sat upon the point of the wedge with their legs astride, and weighed down by stones or weights. Intense pain ensued, often crippling the victim for life.

Ancient Torture Facts

18. Good Point

The Judas Cradle was an Italian torture device resembling a pyramid shaped seat. Torture victims would be seated on it, with the point inserted into the anus or vagina, slowly stretching out the orifice until the victim was completely impaled or infection set in and killed the victim. We know Judas betrayed Jesus, but this is a bit much.

Ancient Torture Facts

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17. Cats And Dogs (And Snakes)

The Romans devised of Poena Cullei to deal with those committing parricide (killing their parents). The criminal was sewn into a leather sack with several wild animals, often dogs, cats, snakes, and even monkeys, then thrown into a body of water. Eventually the method fell out of practice, but was revived several times throughout history, each time with a specific list of animals to be thrown in the sack.

Ancient Torture Facts

16. Hauling Mass

The Dutch navy invented Keel Hauling, a brutal technique where a sailor was tied up and dragged along the bottom of a boat or ship. If drowning didn’t kill the sailor, the barnacles slicing up their body would attract hungry predators to feast on their body.

Ancient Torture Facts

15. Cutting It Close

Ling Chi or death by a thousand cuts was used as a form of execution in ancient China. The executioner uses a knife to remove small pieces of the victim’s body, eventually resulting in death. Executioners would test their skills by trying to prolong the torture for as long as possible. Seriously, cut it out.

Ancient Torture Facts

14. Have A Seat

The Iron Chair was a chair adorned with lots and lots of small spikes. Since no organs were punctured, and all the wounds are sealed, death didn’t occur until after the person was removed from the chair. Talk about a hot seat.

Ancient Torture Facts

13. Lady Luck

The Iron Maiden is an upright metal coffin, with many sharp spikes inside. Once victims were placed inside and the Iron Maiden closed, the victim would either be impaled repeatedly or unable to move without getting pierced by the spikes. This torture often ended in death, but some were lucky enough to have survived. This torture takes claustrophobia to a whole other level.

Ancient Torture Facts

12. Gnarly

Rat torture was popular in Europe and Asia, and its simplicity is commensurate only with its ability to induce nightmares. A pot had several rats placed inside, and the opening pressed against the body of a victim. Hot coals would then be placed against the bottom of the pot, forcing the rats to chew through the victim to escape the heat. Many works of fiction have featured this type of torture, including Game of Thrones and 1984.

Ancient Torture Facts

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11. Hot Water

A very simple torture method is placing a person in a vat of boiling water or oil that has spanned many continents. Most often, the victim as placed into the boiling liquid once it had started boiling, but there are recorded instances of the liquid being brought to a boil with the victim inside. Is it getting hot in here?

Ancient Torture Facts

10. High Stakes

Impalement has been a staple torture method through history, and a favourite of Vlad The Impaler, the prince who inspired the original Dracula story. A large stick was sharpened at one end, and a person impaled upon it. Then the stick was planted in the ground, and the person would slowly and painfully slide down to their death. Sometimes the victim was impaled all the way through from the start. We’re not sure what’s worse.

Ancient Torture Facts

9. Brave Part(s)

Hanged, drawn, and quartered was the act of hanging, disembowelling a victim, and cutting their body into four parts, five including the head. This torture originated in medieval England was reserved for crimes against the crown. The victim was often dead by the time they got to the quartering part, but it was more a warning to others who might try to act against the king or queen. Famous Scottish leader William Wallace, a.k.a. Braveheart was met with this fate.

Ancient Torture Facts

8. Stretch Your Legs (And Arms)

The torture rack, or more commonly referred to as just “the rack,” was a large table with hand cranked pulleys at every corner. A person was tied to each pulley by their limbs, and slowly stretched apart by multiple executioners until all their joints, and sometimes limbs had been ripped apart. It was believed prisoners forced to watch others being racked was even more torturous than actually being racked. Now that’s a stretch.

Ancient Torture Facts

7. On The Plus Side

Crucifixion has claimed a lot of victims and is one of the oldest and simplest forms of torture. Victims were tied to wooden crosses and left upright, sometimes high above the ground. After an extended period of having their arms outstretched at their sides, their lungs would collapse and they would suffocate to death. Sometimes a merciful blow was granted by way of a sword or spear piercing the victim just below the ribs.

Ancient Torture Facts

6. Be Like Water

Chinese water torture is less about damage to the body and more about damage to the mind. The victim is firmly tied down, and a single drop of water is repeatedly dropped on the victim’s head, slowly driving the victim insane. While the technique is described several times through history, there are no reported cases of this ever taking place. For the time being, it looks like there’s no one in a rush to prove it wrong.

Ancient Torture Facts

5. See, Saw

Saw torture dates back to the medieval ages and spans several civilizations. A person is tied between two posts, sometimes upside down to prolong the torture, and sawed in half by two executioners. We know three’s company, but this is an overreaction.

Ancient Torture Facts

4. Give Me A Break

The Breaking Wheel isn’t a wheel that’s break dancing. It was a large wooden wheel that the victim would be tied down to. An executioner would bludgeon the victim’s limbs until they were all broken. If that didn’t kill the victim, they were then raised onto a pole and left outside for the birds to feast on.

Ancient Torture Facts

3. Big Bully

The Brazen Bull was a large, hollow bronze bull statue with a door on the side. A person was placed inside, then a fire would be lit under the statue heating the metal and cooking the person inside. Inside the bull, there was a series of pipes that would transform the victim’s screams into the bellowing a furious bull. Phalaris, the inventor of the Brazen Bull was the first victim of the torture device. The king he presented the Brazen Bull to thought it a cruel invention and wanted to punish Phalaris. Talk about bad karma.

Ancient Torture Facts

2. Sweet Tooth

Scaphism or “boats” was an ancient torture execution technique where a person was laid down in a small boat, while another boat was placed on top with holes for the person’s head, hands and feet. The two boats were nailed together, and the person was fed a mixture of honey and milk and left to float in a stagnant pond or swamp. That’s when insects and other creatures would arrive to slowly feast on the individual. Sometimes, the feeding process was repeated to prolong the victim’s suffering, one reported case lasting as long as 17 days! Usually shock and dehydration killed the victims after a few days.

Ancient Torture Facts

1. Makes Your Skin Crawl

Flaying is the act of skinning someone alive. It was one of the most common forms of torture throughout history. Flaying didn’t always end in death, but in the cases that it did, it took anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Sometimes the skin of the victims was used as a warning to others.

Ancient Torture Facts

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

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