Many of the weird deaths of the ancient world, such as the Roman emperor forced to drink molten gold, or the gruesome executions used by the Vikings, are the stuff of legends. Little proof exists that these actually took place, or that they were anywhere near as bizarre as the stories say. But if these killings truly were even half as disgusting as the legends, a lot of really powerful ancient people died in really bad ways.
Here are some of the strangest and most brutal deaths that befell leaders of the ancient world.
Woseribre Senebkay, the Pharaoh Hacked to Death with Axes
Likely reigning around 1650 BCE, Woseribre Senebkay died a brutal death in battle. His tomb was found in 2014, and when exhumed his skeleton had at least 18 deep wounds on its arms, legs, and back. It's likely that he was stabbed while on horseback, then hacked to death when he hit the ground.
Emperor Galba's Head Was Used as a Soccer Ball
Taking the throne of the Roman Empire during a period of extreme strife (he died in 69 CE, known as the "year of the four emperors"), Galba reigned for just seven months, during which he massively increased taxes and demonstrated cruelty to the people. In January of that year, he was beheaded by rebellious troops, who brought the head to the camp of his foes. It was mocked and kicked around before finally being buried.
Sicilian Tyrant Phalaris Was Roasted Alive in His Own Bronze Bull
One of the most tyrannical leaders of the ancient world, Phalaris ruled the small kingdom of Acragas (now in Sicily) with not just an iron fist, but a bronze bull. He would lock his foes in a giant bronze statue of a bull, then set a fire underneath it, roasting the poor soul alive.
In 556 BCE, after 16 years of cruelty, Phalaris's own generals organized a coup, took power, and burned Phalaris alive in the same brazen bull the dictator used.
Sigurd the Mighty Was Killed by a Severed Head
Sigurd the Mighty was the second Viking Earl of Orkney, and led the Viking conquest of what is now northern Scotland. Bizarrely, he was killed by the severed head of one his enemies, Máel Brigte, who he had killed in arranged combat. The pair agreed to meet for battle, each with 40 men. But Sigurd showed up with twice that many, and slaughtered the Scots.
Eager to make the Scottish leader an example, Sigurd strapped Máel Brigte's head to his saddle as a trophy of conquest. But as he rode, Máel Brigte's distinctive buck teeth grazed against Sigurd's leg, opening up a wound. The gash became infected with pestilence from the head, and Sigurd died in agony.
Roman Emperor Caracalla Was Stabbed While Taking a Leak
Reigning from 198 to 217 CE, Emperor Caracalla (aka Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Augustus) made few friends with his radical proposals to turn all free men in the Roman Empire into citizens, for the purposes of taxing the heck out of them. After having his brother murdered, devaluing Roman currency, and shackling all newly-freed men with his own first name, Caracalla was murdered while urinating at a roadside stop between two cities.
Legend has it that he was stabbed in the heart by a guard whose brother had been executed several days earlier by Caracalla.
Saxon King Aelle, Killed by the Infamous Blood Eagle
According to the Viking sagas, Ragnar Lodbrok's son Ivar the Boneless killed his rival king Aelle of Northumbria in revenge for Aelle killing Ragnar. The execution was said to be carried out using the most infamous form of Viking punishment: the blood eagle, a ritualized execution involving the victim's back being opened up and the ribs cracked open one by one. Then salt would be poured into the wound, and the victim was left to die.
Multiple Norse kings were said to be killed this way, but debate rages as to whether the blood eagle was an invention of saga writers, a misinterpretation of grave runes, or an actual act reserved for the most heinous of sins.
Jovian Was Asphyxiated by a Charcoal Fire (Or Maybe Paint Fumes)
As is typical of the ancient world, accounts vary as to how the young Roman Emperor Jovian died in February 364. The most commonly told story is that he set a charcoal fire in his quarters, either to grill meat or warm himself, then fell asleep and suffocated. It's also possible he asphyxiated due to the fumes from the newly applied lead paint in his room, or ate toxic mushrooms.
Emperor Tiberius Died Twice
Tiberius was not only one of the great early emperors of Rome, but also one of the oldest. He reached the advanced age of 77, and appeared to die of natural causes in 37 CE... except he actually didn't - he was simply deeply asleep. The cruel, gloomy, and paranoid Tiberius was so hated by the end of his reign that the people rejoiced when his death was announced. But he awoke soon after, leading his successor, his great nephew Caligula, to smother him with a pillow. Naturally, another round of rejoicing broke out.
The story is likely apocryphal, but demonstrates the degree to which Tiberius was detested by the Roman Senate by the time he died.