Sad as it may sound, there were torture tools and methods for almost every crime in the medieval era, from a skull crusher for blasphemers to the pear of anguish for liars and adulterers. The depraved practice of using pain to extract information or punish social crimes was common almost all over the world. Inhuman as they were, these practices were generally accepted even by the church. Torturers perfected the tools that could inflict maximum pain till death to a level that still shocks the world today. It is hard to explain why our ancestors embraced such scary practices, but these 10 are just a shallow dive into what it meant to live a few centuries ago.
The Brazen Bull
This is a torture tool with a great story because both the man that commissioned it and the one that invented it were tortured in it — a bronze bull placed on the fire to roast the wrongdoer alive inflicting the worst pain imaginable. The inventor was Perillos of Athens between 570 and 554BC for the Sicilian tyrant Phalaris who was the ruler of Acragas. The bull was designed to be hollow enough to fit a person. It was also fitted with tubes that made the screams of the person being tortured to sound like the bellows of the bull. Phalaris put Perillos into the bull and lit a fire below it to test if the device was working correctly before throwing him down a cliff to his death. Phalaris himself was roasted in the bull when the city was finally conquered. This bull was used for many centuries afterward, chiefly to punish treason and blasphemy.
The Pear of Anguish
This was a tool popular during the dark ages used as the first punishment for liars, homosexuals, and women that performed abortions in Europe. It was merely an iron pear with four leaves that expanded outwards when the handle was turned. It would be inserted in the mouth or orifice depending on the type of crime committed. The torturer then turned the handle until the leaves expanded to their maximum ripping skin apart to cause extensive bleeding, which could lead to death or permanent damage. For homosexuals and blasphemers, this would be followed by stricter torture methods. This tool was also widely used in the witch hunts of Salem as witches were forced to confess.
This tool led to one of the slowest and most painful deaths. It was merely a wagon wheel with widely spaced spokes that could accommodate human limbs and head. The offender was tied to the wheel after being flogged, clubbed, or stoned. On being turned, the spokes would break the offender,s limbs, causing an agonizing pain because bones would break at different points with each turn of the wheel. The saddest aspect is that extensive bleeding would happen internally and at a slower rate, meaning death was not easy to come by. This was a popular public execution method in Rome where the wheel could be turned by the torturer almost daily breaking limbs for days before the person died. It was mostly used on adulterous women, robbers, and blasphemers.
The Head Crusher
As the name suggests, this was not the type of tool you wanted anywhere near your head. The skull crusher was mostly used to extract information from deserters and treasonous offenders or enemy combatants. It was made of two metallic plates sometimes with spikes fitted on a vice that closed in on the skull when the offender,s head was put between them. The process is self-explanatory actually. As the plates closed in, the victim would either have to provide the needed information or their skulls would be crushed into a paste. Sometimes, even if the head was not crushed, permanent damage to the brain was done. Some skull crushers were actually designed to crush more than one head at a time, meaning the one with the biggest head was in the most trouble.
The Judas Cradle
The name of Jesus’ most despised disciple is also the name of the most gruesome seat of torture in history. This cradle was simply a pyramid-shaped spike mounted on a pole where the offender would sit. It was used to punish women that forced miscarriages, adulterers, and homosexuals. The offender would be perched on the cradle, sometimes with weights placed on their legs to increase the pain. The tip of the cradle would then be inserted into the offender,s orifice, anus for homosexuals and the vagina for women. The time spent on the cradle would largely depend on the nature of the crime. The longer you sat on it, the more damage it caused ripping skin apart and causing extensive bleeding that impaled skin. If you don’t die immediately, you could die from infection or suffer permanent damage.
The Rat Box
It is hard to imagine how rats can be used as a torture tool until you remember that under extreme starvation, rats will eat through anything, including human skin. In this case, rats would not eat the victim; they would instead dig through you in a bid to escape. This was also another method of interrogation, although it mostly resulted in the death of the victim. The process was quite simple, starved rats stuffed in a metal box or bucket would be tied onto the victim,s stomach. The rats would then be provoked by fire or noise introduced to the back of the bucket, causing the rats to seek a way out in a frenzy. They would eat through the victim,s stomach, causing the most excruciating pain. Death was also not quick because rats would not eat the heart and lungs, leaving the victim to bleed and struggle slowly till death.
This was the most famous execution methods among Greeks and later the Romans for extreme criminals. Extreme in this case ranged from saying something nasty about the emperor to stealing. If you are a bible reader, you probably know that this was the method used to execute Jesus and though painful and gruesome, the process also led to a prolonged death. This was a public execution method which meant that the limbs of the offender would be nailed and then be lifted in the desert. They could die of anything from infection, bleeding to being torn apart by hungry birds. The pain was severe since most people were crucified after extreme flogging and torture. Death could take days as the victim endured the unimaginable pain.
Hanged, Drawn & Quartered
This was probably the worst way to die in all history. Sadly, this method was most widely used in England on people accused of high treason. It all began with the person being dragged through the streets by horses sustaining extensive bruises and broken bones. The process was painful, leading to screams as the crowds scoffed the offender. The person was then taken to the gallows and hanged but not to death. You were only hanged until you almost died then you would be lifted on your legs only to be hanged again, most of the time sustaining a broken neck. After the hanging, the executioner would then cut you into four equal parts while you were still alive. Your only hope would be to give in to your injuries during any of the earlier torturings.
The Saw & the Rack
These two were widely used across Europe either jointly or individually on a wide range of crimes. The rack was the most famous known to have been used to kill many early Christians. It involved being tied to a table or board; then your limbs would be pulled apart either by horses or using screws that simply stretched them outside, ripping them out of your body. As muscles and tendons were torn, the victim would experience a lot of pain and sometimes descend into shock and death from a heart attack if not the excessive bleeding or sawing that followed. The saw, on the other hand, was simply used to inflict a life-threatening cut by two cruel men. Then the victim would be left to bleed to death, something that could take a very long time.
The Breast Ripper
This one was too inhuman; it is even impossible to describe it. It was also called the iron spider or the adulterer,s iron. It was used for interrogation and punishment of women accused of heresy, adultery, abortion or of being a witch. It was a four-clawed iron tool shaped like tongs except for the four sharp claws at the tip. It was mostly heated before being attached to one, breast to rip it off.
In most cases, this torture would be done in front of the woman,s family, including her children to send a warning to other people that may be tempted to commit her crimes. The pain and bleeding would lead to shock and finally, death. If the woman survived, she would be exposed to further torture or be left with permanent disfigurement.