Horrific Medieval Torture Methods, The Worst Way To Die
The Medieval period often gets a bad rep compared to other historical periods as being the most brutal and unforgiving given the horrific medieval torture methods that made it quite famous. This is in some part due to the Victorians, who wanted to paint themselves as modernizers and separate their brave new world from the grisly past.
They concocted all manner of myths and lies about the medieval period to paint it as barbaric and savage. However, as much as those pesky Victorians lied and exaggerated, there were still some pretty damn unpleasant goings-on, and one of the most chilling torture methods was the oubliette.
Unlike the Iron Maiden, falsely ascribed to Medieval Europe and later revealed as a 19th-century hoax, the oubliette is a device you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.
The oubliette was a small, cramped space accessible only through a single grate in the ceiling, which was typically out of reach, denying the prisoner any chance of escape. Within these dark chambers, prisoners were left to witness a mere glimpse of light that they could never reach.
The absence of drainage meant that they were forced to stand or lie in their own filth, occasionally being subjected to further degradation as guards would throw waste upon them. Housed within the castle walls, prisoners could hear the tantalizing aroma of food wafting through the corridors, serving as a constant reminder of the life they were denied.
These chambers were often so narrow that only standing or crouching in an uncomfortable position was possible. To compound the horrors, prisoners were frequently accompanied by rats or the remains of previous victims.
The psychological torment inflicted by the oubliette was immeasurable, as it stripped away the hope of rescue, subjected prisoners to physical discomfort, and denied them even the most basic human dignity.
While the extent of the usage of oubliettes may have been exaggerated over time, the horror they inspire continues to captivate our imaginations. Many spaces commonly believed to be dungeons in medieval castles were actually utilized for more mundane purposes such as storage or drainage.
In reality, most prisoners held within a castle were individuals of wealth or status, or political prisoners held as bargaining chips. These aristocratic prisoners could expect treatment in accordance with their social standing and were housed in towers rather than dungeons.
In practical terms, the limited space within a functioning castle made it impractical to allocate significant areas for holding numerous low-status prisoners. During extended sieges, where castles could be under siege for months or even years, it was more crucial to have additional storage space for food provisions rather than dedicating it to prisoner dungeons.
Thus, the use of castles as prisons became more widespread only when they became obsolete for military purposes with the advent of cannons.
We have probably seen enough films, read enough books, and watched enough TV dramas to know that the medieval world loved a bit of torture. Despite all that exposure, it’s fair to say that the way those torture techniques are shown in media is probably toned down from the real thing!
Here are the most gruesome medieval torture techniques and devices humans have used to do the worst things imaginable to each other.
The Iron Maiden is probably the most famous torture device of the Middle Ages. However, it receives a dishonorable mention because it didn't exist in the medieval period. The Iron Maiden was a 19th-century hoax created to present the past as being more violent than the modern era to demonstrate the march of progress.
The rack is a classic torture tool associated with the Spanish Inquisition. The victim would be tied to a wooden structure featuring a system of cranks. As the cranks were turned, the ropes restraining the victim would tighten, stretching their limbs and causing excruciating pain. The gradual stretching of the body on the rack often led to dislocated joints, torn ligaments, and severe injuries.
The thumb screw was another painful torture method used during medieval times. It consisted of two metal plates with a vice mechanism into which the victim's thumb was placed. The torturer would then tighten the vice, crushing the thumb and inflicting intense pain.
Thumbscrews (Horrible Punishments in History)
Dunking, often associated with the torture of suspected witches, involved submerging the victim in water and then removing them just before drowning. The uncertainty of not knowing when they would be lifted out of the water added to the psychological torment and fear experienced by the victim.
The boot, also known as the Spanish Boot or Scarpines, was a device used to torture the legs. The victim's lower legs would be placed into tightly fitted wooden or iron boots, and wedges would be driven in between the boot and the victim's skin. This caused excruciating pain, abrasions, lesions, and even bone fractures.
The Spanish Boot - Worst Punishments in the History of Mankind
The breaking wheel was a torturous device consisting of a wagon wheel with teeth or cogs. The victim would be tied to the wheel, and their limbs would rest between the cogs.
The torturer would then use a hammer to smash the victim's limbs over the wheel until they were dead. The sight of the broken body on the wheel would often serve as a public spectacle.
Flaying, a method of torture that dates back to ancient times, involved skinning the victim alive. This horrific death was intended to cause extreme pain and suffering. The technique was often used as a means of execution or punishment for crimes.
Flaying: Inside The Grotesque History Of Skinning People Alive
Rat torture was an incredibly cruel and sadistic method of torture. The victim would be bound to a table or rack, and a rat would be placed on their chest. A container would be secured over the rat, and heat would be applied, forcing the rat to burrow through the victim's body in an attempt to escape. This would result in a slow, agonizing death.
Coffin torture was one of the most dreaded forms of torture during the Medieval Period. The accused would be placed inside a caged coffin, rendering them completely immobile.
The duration of time inside the coffin was determined by the severity of the crime, with some infractions, such as blasphemy, punishable by death. Victims of coffin torture were often put on public display, where they would be mocked and abused by angry locals. The confined space and lack of mobility in the coffin would cause extreme discomfort, fear, and psychological distress.
Coffin Torture - Worst Punishments in the History of Mankind
The breast ripper, also known as the Iron Spider, was a particularly brutal torture device primarily used on women accused of various crimes, including adultery, self-abortion, heresy, blasphemy, or witchcraft.
The device, which was often heated during torture, featured four claws that would be latched onto a single breast of the victim. The torturer would then slowly and painfully rip off the breast, causing immense pain, bleeding, and disfigurement.
The brutality of this method extended beyond the physical harm inflicted, as the blood splattering onto the victim's children would add an additional layer of psychological torment.
Facing the Horrors of the BREAST RIPPER
Various variations of the breast ripper existed, each designed to cause severe pain and permanent physical damage to the victim's body.
The knee splitter, popular during the Inquisition, was a device used to destroy the knees of the victim. It consisted of two spiked wood blocks placed in front of and behind the knee. The blocks were connected by two large screws, which, when turned, would close the blocks towards each other, crushing the knee underneath.
The number of spikes on the blocks varied, with more spikes often used for more severe crimes or higher-status prisoners. The purpose of the knee splitter was to render the knees useless, causing excruciating pain and permanent disability.
This punishment, originating from Ancient Greece, involved tying an offending sailor to a rope looped underneath a vessel and dragging them underwater. The rough bottom of the boat, often covered in razor-sharp barnacles, would cause injuries and potential drowning.
Saw torture, practiced in various ancient civilizations, involved sawing a living person in half either longitudinally or transversely, inflicting immense pain and often resulting in death.
THE TORTURE OF THE SAW | Draw My Life
This device, known for its use during the Middle Ages, was inserted into the victim's orifices, such as the vagina, anus, or mouth. By turning a screw, the device would expand, causing extreme pain, tearing of the skin, and mutilation.
Most Brutal Tortures Done on Women!
The iron chair, featuring hundreds of sharp spikes, was used extensively during the Middle Ages. Victims would be placed onto the chair, and iron restraints would be progressively tightened, forcing the spikes deep into their flesh. This torture method often lasted for hours, causing extreme pain and sometimes resulting in death.
Iron Chair Torture History | Torture Chair | Chair Torture | Brutal Torture Methods
These examples represent just a fraction of the various torture techniques and devices used throughout history.
These methods were employed to extract confessions, punish offenders, and instill fear and control in society. The descriptions of these gruesome practices serve as a stark reminder of the dark and brutal aspects of human history.
Flaying - The Gruesome Act of Being Skinned Alive
This particular torture method comes incredibly close to claiming the title of the most merciless due to its sadistic approach. Flaying, also known as skinning, was arguably the most excruciating among the ancient world's execution methods, primarily due to its agonizingly slow process. The procedure commenced by forcibly removing the victim's clothing, followed by binding their hands and feet to prevent any form of resistance or escape.
Individuals accused of heresy and other religious offenses faced the harshest consequence of all: the dreadful act of being burned alive at the stake. This punishment not only inflicted a gruesome demise but also carried the devastating implication that one's body would be utterly consumed, eliminating any possibility of resurrection.
The Rack Torture Device
The sheer brutality of the Rack Torture Device was such that even if the victim's joints managed to escape dislocation or tearing from their sockets, the consequences were still dire. The inflicted individual would be left permanently maimed and, in certain instances, paralyzed, burdened with a lifetime of suffering.
Looking back, it is a relief that we were not born in the medieval era, where the horrors of the oubliette were a stark reality for some unfortunate souls. The myths and legends surrounding the horrific medieval torture methods may have been twisted and exaggerated over time, but the undeniable fact remains that the oubliette represents one of the darkest chapters of human cruelty in history.
It serves as a chilling reminder of the capacity for inhumanity that existed during that era, prompting us to reflect on the progress we have made as a society and to cherish the freedoms and rights we enjoy today.