Death Penalty History: 11 Brutal Methods Of Execution From Our Past


When I was a senior in high school, I wrote my “thesis” paper for my composition class in support of the death penalty. I don’t know why I chose it other than the fact that it was an easily researchable topic, in a time when the internet was not even on the radar. Heck, EBSCO was a fledgling company that required mail orders, via inter library loans, for items! I needed something that I could sink my teeth into with relative ease and still be able to write a substantive paper. I never encountered any of the things that I am about to share with you today. With all of the horror entertainment of late, Texas Chainsaw 3D, The Walking Dead, and American Horror Story, it seems as good a time as any to talk about real life horror and the death penalty. Without further adieu: the list.

Warning: Graphic images follow. 

1. Sawing

This form of execution is most closely associated with the reign of the Roman Emperor Caligula. The criminal was attached to an arch of wood and then sawn vertically from the groin down through the skull. Folks, it can’t get any worse than that...can it?

2. Slow Slicing

The Chinese legally used this punishment until 1905. The condemned would be tied to a stake and then pieces of flesh would be cut from the body over a lengthy period of time. Confucianism maintains that cutting the body leaves the after life spirit unwhole and thus unable to rest. So this excruciating punishment not only served for a slow torturous death, but presumably it continued to torture your spirit.

3. Breaking Wheel

This device dates back to ancient Greece, but most memorably in the Middle Ages, and was used as recently as the 19th century. Basically, the condemned was tied to a wheel-like structure, if available, and then the bones would be bashed with an iron bar or hammer against the spokes. This basically left the person alive, but dismembered.

4. Flaying

Yes, the person would literally be skinned alive in a manner as to keep the skin in tact for public display. This form of execution dates back to at least the Assyrians in 720 BC. 

5. Scaphism

The Persians make their second appearance on the list. Here they would place the person inside a small row boat so that their appendages protruded from over the edges of the boat. Another boat would be placed on top so that only the appendages could be seen. The person would be force fed milk and honey until diarrhea set in. Then the body would be slathered with honey and the boat set adrift where the person would ultimately die from any number of afflictions after many torturous stings and bites from insects and other creatures.

6. Disembowelment

The accused would be slashed horizontally on most occasions, and their intestines removed. This would cause the person to suffer for several hours until death. Occasionally, other organs may be removed or decapitation may be used to speed up the process. Transanal evisceration is a form where the intestines would be pulled through the anus. Yowzah.

7. Impalement

Yes, that is a man pushed down onto a spike vertically from anus to mouth. I’m not sure why I didn’t place this one higher on the list, but I mean, we’re splitting hairs here aren’t we? Anyway, the earliest known impalement I could find came around 522 BC, when Darius the Great had 3000 noble Persians impaled.

8. Crushing


While some countries have utilized devices to crush bones and bring upon death, the people of Asia, for more than 4000 years, prefer to use elephants. The prisoner would be bound and laid in front of the elephant and the beast would be coerced to move and stomp on the person until they were dead. Presumably this didn’t take very long.

9. Boiling


It is exactly what it sounds like. Typically, a person was lowered into a cauldron of boiling water where they remained until dead. Occasionally, oils or tar would be used. The practice dates back to at least 12th century Mongolia. It has been used in this century, in Uzbekistan.

10. Garrote


The garrote dates back to at least the 17th century, though similar items were used in Ancient Rome. Andorra became the last country to ban the tool for legal execution in 1990. The criminal is placed into the chair and a metal ring is clasped around their neck. The device is then tightened by turning an arm on the back of the chair, slowly crushing the neck of the condemned. Today, the garrote is used by the French Foreign Legion and other black ops military groups around the world to extract information and carry out assassinations.

11. Stoning

Stoning has been around for millennia and was mentioned as long ago as 450 BC by Herodotus and Sophocles. Today, we associate it mostly with Iran. Basically, a man is buried to his waist and a woman to her neck. They are then subjected to being pelted with large stones until they either die or escape. If they escape, they are free to go.