Weird History
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15 Historical Torture Methods Designed To Make The Pain Last As Long As Possible

Updated February 9, 2020 1.9m views14 items

In the rich tapestry that is human history, humankind sure has come up with some imaginative and time-consuming ways to end people. And not just end people, but torture them very, very slowly. The most agonizing forms of torture known to man come from all over the globe and all eras of history. The slowest methods include being skinned alive, "death by 1,000 cuts," and being dragged underneath a boat. Perhaps the only things they have in common (aside from their general depravity, of course) is that you really, really, don't want to go out in any of these ways. Check out this list of torture methods that took the longest to actually end people, and learn about a whole category of things you didn't know you were terrified of.

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  • Keelhauling Used Barnacles To Pull The Skin From A Body

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Surprising no one, pirates were not afraid to dole out some truly horrendous punishments to seamen behaving badly while at sea. Keelhauling was one of the more gruesome of pirate punishment practices. 

    While this drawing makes keelhauling look like an awesome pirate game, it was actually the opposite of fun. The crueler alternative to walking the plank, keelhauling involved throwing a person off of a boat with a rope attached to them. As the boat moved, the person would be pulled underneath it, and their body would scrape against the rough, barnacle-covered bottom of the ship.

    The process was repeated until the person's skin was fully scraped off. This was, as you might imagine, often fatal.

  • The Blood Eagle Suffocated A Person With The Appearance Of Flight

    As brutally demonstrated on an episode of the show Vikings, the "blood eagle" was an incredibly tortuous method of execution used by Vikings. A person's back would be cut open and their ribs would be pulled through the open skin and bent outwards, exposing their lungs and creating "wings." 

    It may not have taken years to perish, but however long it was, it probably felt like an eternity.

  • Lingchi Cutting Made A Victim Slowly Bleed Out

    Lingchi is a traditional Chinese method of execution that also goes by the snappy nickname of "death by 1,000 cuts." In use for 1,000 years, a lingchi recipient would be tied to a pole and then gashed all over their body, and the cuts would just keep coming until they finally bled out. In some cases, the cuts would number over 3,000, and the person's demise would take three days.

    Lingchi was used in China up until the 20th century, and it didn't always involve simply slashing a victim. It also took the form of live dismemberment.

  • Photo: Jimmy McIntyre / Flickr / CC-BY-SA 2.0

    Scaphism is a brutal ancient Persian method of execution. Also known as "the boats," a person would be strapped into a narrow boat or hollowed out tree trunk. They would then be forced to ingest milk and honey to the point of sickness - with the goal of actually giving them diarrhea - and extra honey would be poured onto their orifices. The milk, honey, and human excrement attracted bugs while keeping the target alive and prolonging their suffering.

    Sometimes, even as their flesh turned gangrenous, targets would be fed on for many days, forcing them to live on and suffer. Eventually, though, the person would perish, usually as a result of blood sepsis or gangrenous infection.