11 Brutal Human Sacrifice Practices Throughout History

Humans have always had a dark side, and this list of brutal human sacrifice methods explores it in graphic detail. Maybe when you think of human sacrifice, you picture grand and graphic Aztec or Mayan ceremonies. While civilizations such as these certainly did their share of brutal sacrificing, they were by no means the only ancient civilizations that participated in death rituals. 

From ancient China to England to Egypt, civilizations throughout history developed quite a few human sacrifice methods. Mostly, these were religious human sacrifices, though sometimes they were carried out as punishment, or as a part of local traditions. Those who sacrificed humans used a number of brutal techniques to do so, including decapitation, strangulation, whipping, burning, cannibalism, and burying victims alive. If anything, this list demonstrates the disturbing creativity of human bloodlust. 

Photo: Jacques Arago and N. Maurin / Public Domain

  • Burned Alive, Bludgeoned, And Hanged: The British

    Burned Alive, Bludgeoned, And Hanged: The British
    Photo: Thomas Pennant / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The ancient British left no written historical records of their own, so much of what we know about ancient Britain is based on Roman writings. Julius Caesar wrote that Druids built massive wicker men, loaded them with human and animal sacrifices, and lit them on fire. Others suggest this is Roman hyperbole designed to make the British appear savage. 

    Whether or not human sacrifices actually happened in wicker effigies, evidence exists of human sacrifice in ancient Britain. Bodies found in bogs show evidence of ritualistic slaying, possibly undertaken as offerings to the gods.

  • Dismembered: The Chinese

    Dismembered: The Chinese
    Video: YouTube

    One of the most powerful empires in Chinese history, the Shang Dynasty lasted for more than 500 years, and is the first recorded period in ancient Chinese history. It was also home to brutal techniques focused on ripping apart the bodies of those who were sacrificed. 

    Shang human sacrifice victims were burned, split into halves, beheaded, or chopped up. The most common ceremonies were pit, foundation, and interment sacrifices. For pit sacrifices, young men were ripped apart and buried without their possessions. Foundation sacrifices involved children and infants, while interment sacrifices focused on young women.

    Some of the people sacrificed were captives, others criminals. The Shang also made sacrifices to various gods. 


  • Hung Upside Down And Beaten: The Hawaiians

    Hung Upside Down And Beaten: The Hawaiians
    Photo: John Webber / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Early Tahitian invaders of Hawaii practiced a number of human sacrifice techniques, victimizing descendants of the Polynesians who initially settled the Hawaiian Islands. Those sacrificed were mostly captives, though some were tribe members who broke laws or committed taboo acts.

    Sacrifice techniques included strangulation, bone-breaking, and the complete removal of the intestines. Early Hawaiians practiced human sacrifice to appease Ku, the god of war and defense, in order to ensure victory in future battles. Captives from enemy tribes, especially chiefs, were sacrificed in sacred temples through a variety of means, including being hung upside down, bludgeoned, and bled. They were then disemboweled and the remaining flesh, either cooked or raw, was eaten by the priest and the chief of the tribe.

  • Buried Alive: The Ancient Egyptians

    In the golden age of ancient Egypt, pharaohs were buried with effigies of their retainers (servants and other followers), but pharaohs of the First Dynasty were buried with their actual, living retainers, in a practice known as retainer sacrifice.

    These servants (and sometimes high-ranking officials) were sacrificed in accordance with religious beliefs. According to these beliefs, servants were meant to continue serving their rulers after they perished. Essentially, rulers were so important that they needed an entourage in the afterlife. 

    As the First Dynasty ended, retainers managed to convince pharaohs that they could better serve if left alive to continue carrying out the will of the pharaoh on Earth.

  • Fatal Blow To The Head: The Mesopotamians

    Fatal Blow To The Head: The Mesopotamians
    Photo: Ealdgyth / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Like the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, the royals of ancient Mesopotamia were buried with the rest of their household. This included some members of the royal court, such as soldiers, handmaidens, and servants. Human remains found at an archaeological site in Ur (now Iraq) attest to more than 2,000 people being sacrificed in this way.

    In an innocent near-past, experts believed victims of sacrifices in Mesopotamia were poisoned peacefully before burial. Recent discoveries suggest a more brutal practice. Analysis of skeletal remains suggests that victims were struck in the head before burial. Some have speculated that targets may have been struck in the head to end them because the poison wasn't enough, thus preventing them from being buried alive. However, the truth about why they were dispatched in such a way remains unknown.

  • Removal Of The Heart: The Aztecs

    Many probably think first of the Aztecs when they hear "ritualistic human sacrifice," and with good reason. Human sacrifice was widespread in Aztec culture, and sacrificial techniques were ruthless. The Aztec worshipped a pantheon of gods that they believed they had to appease through blood sacrifice - both animal and human. Archaeologists estimate that a few thousand people were sacrificially slain each year for this purpose. While some came from the Aztec community, many were prisoners of war.

    During sacrificial rituals to the sun god, the victim was forced to walk up the many steps of a temple; at the top, a priest cut the person open from throat to stomach. The heart was then removed and offered to the god. The person was then pushed from the top of the temple down the stairs to the bottom, where they were dismembered or taken away.