The Most Horrific Types of Medieval Torture
This list of gross torture methods used in medieval times proves how these medieval torture devices were some of the most sadistic machines in history. Using devices like the Judas cradle, pear of anguish, and Spanish donkey, torture inflicted anguish on convicts, hostages, and disagreeable folks. History books call them horrific forms of torture, and most people wouldn't wish these sorts of treatments on their worst enemies. Read through this list of horrifying types of medieval punishment and be thankful that you were born a couple centuries after their presence.
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The Breast RipperPhoto: Flominator / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
As you may have assumed from its name, torturers used the breast ripper primarily to inflict pain upon women. The claws were often heated up before being attached to the victim's exposed breasts. Women were strapped to a table or wall while a torturer pulled the device away. There was a similar device called the Iron Spider that was attached to walls and worked the same way with the woman pulled away from the wall.
If the victim wasn't killed, she would be left mutilated for life. This treatment was a punishment for accused adulterers, unwed mothers, witches, and heretics.
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FlayingPhoto: Wellcome Images / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0
Thought to have originated with the Assyrians, "flaying" broadly describes an ancient technique that was most popular in various Middle Eastern and African regions roughly 1,000 years ago. In the Middle Ages, it was frequently used to torture and execute criminals, captured soldiers, and those accused of witchcraft.
Usually, the victim was tied to a pole in a public square or high-traffic area of the community. Using a small knife, the torturer would methodically remove strips of the tortured's skin, peeling back sections to reveal the musculature beneath.
This slow process often began at the victim's face and proceeded down towards their feet. Many victims died from shock or blood loss before the torturer reached their hips. In some cases, the remaining skin was then publicly displayed as a warning against breaking the law or witchcraft.
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The Judas CradlePhoto: Flominator / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Reaching the peak of its popularity during the Spanish Inquisition of the 1600s, this was also known as the Judas Chair or the Guilded Cradle. The Judas Cradle was a torture device where the victim would be placed on top of a wooden pyramid with the triangular end inserted in the victim's anus or vagina. Arms and feet were tied or weighted in order to ensure maximum pain as gravity slowly pulled the victim downward.
More often than not, the Judas Cradle was used to extract confessions or specific information from victims, so the addition of weights could increase the horror. Depending on the rate of the pyramid-sitter's progress, this torture could last anywhere from a few hours to a full day.
While the torture was not usually intended to be fatal, it often was. Since the device was never cleaned, survivors experienced a high incidence of infection, which was effectively a death sentence in the centuries before antibiotics.
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The Brazen BullPhoto: JoJan / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0
Possibly the most imaginative means of sadistic torment, the brazen bull unleashed pain on victims in ancient Greece. The tyrant Phalaris allegedly commissioned this torture device to exercise his sadistic streak. Victims were sealed inside the gleaming bull and slowly burned to death. A series of pipes on the inside made it sound as if the victim's wailing and thrashing were the sound of an actual bull, giving this torture implement a decidedly macabre streak.
Even though this torture was not used commonly during the Middle Ages compared to its reputation in the Greek and Roman Eras, it was allegedly still used in Central Europe. This torture was similar to being boiled alive, just without the water.
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The Crocodile TubePhoto: Metaweb / GNU Free Documentation License
A rare and slightly mysterious form of torture, the Crocodile Tube is thought to have been used only occasionally to extract confessions from accused heretics.
The victim was placed inside a spike-filled cylinder just big enough for their body, with head and feet exposed on either end. The tube was then shut, leaving the victim totally immobilized and impaled on the spikes.
And that's not all. There was often a small fire burning just beneath the cylinder, gradually heating the tube until the torturer extracted a confession – or the victim died. The torturer could inflict all manner of unpleasantness on the victim's exposed face and feet, mutilating their head and toes in order to hurry the process along.
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ImpalingPhoto: The British Library / Flickr / CC0 1.0
Less a method of torture than a means of execution, impalement was typical of medieval punishment due to its simplicity. It was exactly what it sounds like: a large spike was inserted longitudinally, usually via the anus and emerging around the chest, shoulders, neck, or head.
Like so many tortures, impalement didn't originate in the Middle Ages. In fact, impalement was codified as a punishment in the Code of Hammurabi in 1772 BCE. The medieval period did mark maybe the most notorious impalings, however, thanks to the aptly named Vlad the Impaler.
Vlad III Dracula relied on impalement to keep order in Wallachia, his little corner of 15th-century Romania. It was in his battles against the Ottoman Empire that resulted in historical notoriety, though, as he's said to have impaled as many as 20,000 Ottoman Turks outside the city of Targoviste in order to dissuade the next wave from advancing.