Before Google search or truth or dare became a mainstream thing, people used other methods to extract information. But not everyone had the gift of subterfuge. Torture was a popular way of getting people to reveal information or confess to crimes (which they sometimes did not commit). While impaling people or crucifying them or even laying them on a torture rack was pretty common in history, there have been other methods that are so screwed up that simply reading about them might make you shudder. No, seriously, if you’re easily rattled, reading further might not be the best idea.
But for those who are still interested, here’s a list of some of the most gruesome torture (mostly followed by execution) methods ever recorded.
1. Judas Cradle
You’d place the waist harness (attached to the ropes) around the victim and then slowly lower him/her onto the pyramid shaped seat with the pointy top inserted into their anus or vagina. With the downward pressure caused by the victim’s body, the muscles around the orifice would eventually tear thereby impaling the victim. It was also called the nightwatch because when pressure is applied to certain parts of the body, the person cannot fall asleep.
2. Blood Eagle
While the actual accuracy of this method of torture and execution is shrouded in mystery, the blood eagle has been mentioned in Norse literature. As the torturer/executioner, you’d cut open the back of the victim and expose his/her lungs by twisting the ribs outwards to make them look like wings. Very Hannibal- ish if you ask me.
3. Tickle Torture
Not all torture methods involved gore. In medieval China, especially during the reign of the Han dynasty, sometimes you’d have to torture someone for interrogation without actually leaving any scars. This used to be a common occurrence if the victim belonged to the royal or any other influential family. A variation of this in the Roman camps involved dipping the victim’s feet in salt solution and then have a goat lick the bottom of the feet. This would start out as normal tickling but then the pain that followed would be extreme.
4. Swedish Drink
Also called Schwedentrunk , this was the name given by German victims of the torture during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). The Swedish soldiers and mercenaries didn’t receive any pay for fighting for their lords. Instead they were told, they could loot and plunder the regions they marched through, thus making life pretty shitty for non-combatants. Speaking of shit, the ‘Swedish drink’ method involved forcing the victim to drink dangerous amounts of foul manure/urine/excreta, thus making the stomach bloat up to painful levels. But that wasn’t all – if the victims didn’t answer the interrogators’ questions, they’d stomp on their tummies and run horses over them.
Check Out – Instances of animal cruelty in india
5. Brazen Bull
Philosophy wasn’t the only strong suit of the ancient Greeks; they dabbled in sadism too. Perillos of Athens designed it for Phalaris of Sicily as a new means of executing criminals. The Brazen Bull was a bronze hollow bull that could fit a person in it. Once the victim was locked inside, they’d light a fire under the bull, slowly roasting the victim inside. What was even more sadistic was that the contraption was fitted with pipes in such a way that the screams of the dying person would resemble the bellowing of an angry bull, much to the amazement of the onlookers.
6. White Torture
Don’t we all feel tortured when someone gives us the ‘silent treatment’? Now expand that to its optimum scale and that is ‘white torture’. The victim is kept in long periods of solitary confinement in a white room without any windows. His clothes are white. He’s given white food on a white plate and the guards outside wear soft footwear to muffle their sounds. The idea is to cause massive sensory deprivation and isolation to the victim. Ebrahim Nabavi, an Iranian journalist who was subject to this kind of torture, said –
Since I left Evin, I have not been able to sleep without sleeping pills. It is terrible. The loneliness never leaves you, long after you are “free.” Every door that is closed on you … This is why we call it “white torture.” They get what they want without having to hit you. They know enough about you to control the information that you get: they can make you believe that the president has resigned, that they have your wife, that someone you trust has told them lies about you. You begin to break. And once you break, they have control. And then you begin to confess.
7. Breast Ripper
Isn’t the name pretty self-explanatory? Mutilation has always been a favourite go-to zone for torturers and if you were one in 16th century Bavaria, chances are you’d have used one of these on women who were accused of adultery or self-abortion. Breast rippers were usually made of iron and they heated before you’d use them to rip out the victim’s breasts.
8. Pear of Anguish
If there was ever a torturer’s handbook (pretty sure there is one), there’s probably a page that says, if you find a hole, make it bigger . The pear of anguish or choke pear, as it was also called, was a pear shaped metal device whose ends would, for lack of a better word, bloom after they were inserted in a victim’s mouth, anus or vagina, causing immense pain. Sometimes, they’d even fit spikes at the end of these machines.
9. Tying Intestines Around a Tree
Okay, the technical term for this is disembowelment, which has been a pretty common practice throughout history. But there have been rare cases where the victims’ intestines were pulled out, tied/nailed to a tree and then they were made to run around the tree which resulted in eventual death. The tree below is one in Cuylerville, NY, where in 1779, Lt. Thomas Boyd was tortured and killed when Seneca chief Little Beard tied his intestines around the tree and made him run around it.
10. Chinese Water Torture
This weird but effective technique was used by both the Chinese and the Spanish with slight variations. But the crux of the technique was this – the victim was restrained, and then little but constant droplets would be allowed to fall on a sensitive part of his/her head, usually the forehead. It is said that this would apparently make the victim frantic as he/she would perceive a hollow being formed in the spot the droplets would fall.
11. Bamboo Torture
If you think horticulture and torture don’t gel well, you clearly haven’t heard of the bamboo torture method. A restrained victim would be made to sit on a bamboo sapling. Bamboo grows really fast. In this case, the sapling would tear the anus and continue its journey inside the victim’s body. Poor victim. Poor bamboo.
Yeah, so I saved the best (worst) one for last. The Greeks described this as a Persian method of torture and execution. The victim was stripped naked and then firmly fastened within a face-to-face pair of narrow rowing boats (or hollowed-out tree trunks), with the head and limbs protruding. The condemned was forced to drink milk and honey to the point of developing severe diarrhea, and more honey would be rubbed on his body to attract insects to the exposed appendages, eyes and genitals. He would then be left to float on a stagnant pond or be exposed to the sun. The defenseless individual’s feces accumulated within the container, attracting more insects, which would eat and breed within his exposed flesh, which became increasingly gangrenous. The feeding would be repeated each day in some cases to prolong the torture, so that dehydration or starvation did not kill him. Death, when it eventually occurred, was probably due to a combination of dehydration, starvation and septic shock. Death by scaphism was incredibly painful, humiliating and protracted. Plutarch writes in his biography of Artaxerxes that Mithridates, sentenced to die in this manner in 401 BC for killing Cyrus the Younger, survived 17 days before dying.
(I couldn’t find a photo showing the exact method, but here’s an album cover that I think is pretty accurate)