Historical methods of capital punishment offer a morbid look into the darker side of civilized society. In the US, public executions meant to act as a deterrent, yet by the early part of the 20th century, rowdy, drunken crowds swelled into the thousands for these events where merchants sold souvenirs and alcohol, turning the victim into a brief celebrity. And while modern types of capital punishment try (often unsuccessfully) to minimize a victim's pain, plenty of ancient execution methods prolonged agony as long as possible. Unfortunately, many traditional punishments never disappeared as capital punishment still remains in effect the world over. Some of the worst execution methods still used include stoning and decapitation, which date back to ancient times. Humans have doled out death in disturbing ways to each other over the last 6,000 years, and thankfully you live in a time where your chances of being executed in one of these ways is, hopefully, quite small.
If you ever wanted to die in a flood while at the zoo, poena cullei would be your preferred way out. Performed in ancient Rome from the first century BCE until the 6th century CE with a brief revival in 18th century Germany, this form of torture was the standard punishment for parricide, the killing of a parent or relative.
Victims were whipped and covered with a wolf's hide, then placed into a large sack made of ox-leather along with a menagerie of animals, usually a snake, cock, dog, and a monkey. With the animals added, the bag was sewn shut and transported by cart to a running stream or the sea where it was dumped in.
Invented by the ancient Persians mainly to torment the Greeks, scaphism saw its heyday between 600-330 BCE.
A victim of scaphism found themselves stripped naked and encased between two narrow boats or parts of a hollowed-out tree trunk, with their head, arms, and legs sticking out on all sides. They were then force-fed a milk and honey mixture executioners also spread over the eyes, ears, nose, face, genitals, and anus. The boat was then placed either on a stagnate pond or in the direct sun.
The ingested honey mixture would give the victim diarrhea which they would expel into the boat and this mess, along with the sticky goo covering their orifices, would attract insects that would burrow into the flesh and breed, causing a slow death from gangrene and septic shock.
Execution By Elephant
Execution by elephant saw some popularilty in India, Asia, Sri Lanka, Rome, Carthage, and Macedonia, where pachyderms are more readily available. It was first recorded in the classical period (beginning 600 BCE), continued well into the 19th century. The Romans adopted this punishment for war criminals and army deserters, but in India you could get this punishment for tax evasion.
Though straightforward in name, execution by elephant came in many different and gruesome forms. Unlike horses, who always step over objects on the ground, elephants could be trained to follow precise commands by a handler which ranged from crushing a victim's limbs while avoiding vital organs, to finishing an execution quickly by squashing the head. Sometimes ropes were tied to the victim's limbs and fastened to the elephant so when the creature walked, it stretched and dislocated their bones.
In the former Kingdom of Siam, elephant executioners actually tossed the staked down victim high into the air before crushing him. The tusks of elephant executioners were sometimes fitted with sharp blades that allowed them to tear victims apart, while others learned to place a foot on the victim's chest and use their trunk to rip the condemned's limbs off.
Perillos of Athens invented the Brazen Bull in the fifth century BCE for Phalaris, the tyrant of Akragas, Sicily. One was also used by king Alaric II of the Visigothic kingdom of Toulouse in the fifth century AD to execute a Roman usurper named Burdunellus. Hell made bronze, the bull was used by Roman emperors for several centuries to cook criminals and Christian martyrs.
The Brazen Bull consisted of a life-sized, hollow bronze statue shaped like a bull with a door on one side. Executioners locked victims inside and ignited a fire beneath the bull's legs, heating the metal until the person inside roasted to death. As an added charm, Perillos fitted it with an acoustic apparatus in the nostrils that converted the sound of screams into the braying of a bull.see more on Brazen bull