Humans are incredibly creative when it comes to torture and humiliation, as surviving artifacts of ancient cruelty attest. One of the most illustrious and creative civilizations of all time, the Greeks, produced one of the most famous ancient torture devices, the brazen bull. The Egyptians were similarly adept at brutal ancient torture, and the Romans used pain during interrogation in extremely effective ways.
During medieval times, a wide range of people, from common criminals to the mentally ill, those accused of witchcraft, and political adversaries, were tortured to death, in many cases unfairly. The bloody, shameful legacy of that dark period can be read about in the following list of surviving artifacts of cruelty displayed in various museums around the world.
The Iron Chair existed in many forms and went by various names, including the Chinese torture chair, Judas Chair, the fantastically generic chair of torture. Despite these variants, in pretty much all cases the victim was seated on brass and placed over an open flame to slowly roasted alive. A more brutal version (pictured) than the standard flesh roaster had spikes on the seat, armrests, leg rest, and back. A source quoted by The History of Torture author Brian Innes on the Roman practice of roasting Christians in such chairs writes, "...their bodies were so scorched that all the people that stood by were savored by the frying."
The head crusher was a big hit during the Middle Ages. It was employed as a political tool to strike fear into the hearts of subjects in order to engender compliance with a regime's dictums. It was also used to extract confessions from those accused of crimes.
How did it work? The accused’s chin was placed on a bar at the bottom of the device and the dome of the head under a metal cap attached to a threaded metal bar, like a giant screw. The torturer slowly turned this screw, pressing the bar against the cap, allowing the head crusher to live up to its name.
A favored torture device of the Spanish Inquisition, the knee splitter was built of two wooden blocks lined with large spikes. The blocks were attached by a pair of screws. The victim’s leg was inserted between the spiked blocks and the screws turned, drawing the blocks together. The knee splitter crippled victims by rendering the knee useless.
The torture of women reached sadistic heights in 16th century Bavaria, with the advent of the breast ripper, also known as the iron spider. Essentially a metal claw, the device pierced a woman’s breast and was used to slowly rip it off. For nearly 300 years, the breast ripper was used as on women accused of blasphemy, witchcraft, or miscarrying on purpose (self abortions). It was often heated before use. Those who didn't die from this torture lived the rest of their lives disfigured.