6 Exceedingly Strange, WTF Torture Methods From History

It’s a wonder the kinds of brutality man visits on those viewed as dangerous or different. Perhaps even more startling is the tremendous creativity and ingenuity many have put into devising methods and means of torture. History is littered with examples of genuinely WTF torture methods - the kinds of things you look at and wonder, "Who the hell came up with this?" Yes, these torture devices are odd. 

Such strange torture methods - some of them nefarious machines, others creepily ornate rituals involving honey and hungry insects - are designed not only to harm or kill victims, but also to whittle them to an emotional nub while doing so. More than one of these torture methods involves animals, which makes you wonder whether the people who devised them were hanging out on a farm thinking, "What weird torture methods can I make using this goat?" 

Get ready to squirm, because here are history’s oddest (and most horrible) instruments of torture. Bizarre torture, ahoy!

Photo: Artist Unknown / Public Domain

  • Tickle Torture: Goats, Salt, And Voracious Licking

    Tickle torture is the use of tickling to abuse, dominate, harass, or question an individual. Within this genre exist a number of methods, one of which employs sugar or salt, goats, and the victim's feet. The feet are smeared with salt or sugar, and a goat is brought in to lick it off. 

    That doesn't sound so bad, does it? Well, actually, once the sugar or salt is gone and you've gotten a few laughs, the goat keeps licking, blistering your feet and, eventually, ripping skin off. Tickle torture can also induce such shortness of breath that victims become dizzy, vomit, or pass out. Cases of tickle torture have been documented everywhere from medieval Europe to ancient Japan to Nazi concentration camps. 


  • Scaphism, the WTF Bug-and-Honey Torture Of Ancient Persia
    Video: YouTube

    Scaphism, also known as the boats, is a torture method devised by the ancient Persians. Victims were force-fed honey and milk, stripped naked, tied to a boat or hollow tree trunk, smeared in more honey and/or milk, and pushed into stagnant water. Insects, attracted to the honey and milk, slowly ate the victim's body. As the victim relieved themselves, insects bred in the excrement, creating more bugs, which bred and lived in the victim's wounds, turning them gangrenous. In some permutations, wasps were used. 

    Visitors to Persia witnessed scaphism and were appalled. Byzantine writer Zonaras noted, in the 12th century, "The Persians outvie all other barbarians in the horrid cruelty of their punishments, employing tortures that are peculiarly terrible and long-drawn, namely the ‘boats’..."

  • The Brazen Bull, Roasting Criminals Since The 6th Century BC

    The Brazen Bull, Roasting Criminals Since The 6th Century BC
    Photo: Pierre Woeiriot / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The inventor of the Brazen Bull, Perilaus (or Perillos), sought to devise a method of torture so cruel that it would prevent crime. He came up with a hollow bronze bull with a door in the side. Victims were placed in the bull, which was then put over a fire. The victim slowly cooked, and his or her screams were converted, via an acoustic device, into the sounds of a bull. 

    Quite proud of himself, Perilaus presented his device, also known as the Sicilian Bull, to Phalaris, the tyrannical leader of Akragas in the mid-6th century BC, a city in what is now Sicily. As the story goes, cruel though he was, Phalaris was so appalled by the device that he killed its maker. 

  • Rat Torture, In Which Hungry Rats Do What They Do Best

    Say what you will about rats (they carry disease, contaminate food, and are generally cantankerous), but they know how to survive. If you’re ever in a tight spot looking for escape, follow the rats. The furry little suckers are almost as tenacious as cockroaches.

    Perhaps that’s what inspired rat torture, a gruesome practice adopted during the Middle Ages. Victims were placed on their backs. A bucket of live rats was placed, rim down, on the victim’s stomach. A flame was pressed against the overturned bucket, forcing the rats to make a no-brainer decision: stick around and get roasted, or claw through the victim's flesh at the other end of the bucket.

    Victims of rat torture found out pretty quickly just how much a rat would do to survive.

  • Chinese Water Torture

    Chinese Water Torture
    Photo: Erik Palmqvist / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Invented as a means of driving a victim insane, Chinese water torture is a rare form of abuse focused on psychological, rather than physical, torment.

    During Chinese water torture, victims are strapped down so securely that they can’t move. A water spout is placed just above them. Victims see water collect on the spout and drip, little by little, onto their forehead. The incessant drops are maddening to most, as their minds turn to anticipating the next drop. Some victims have stated that the water dropping on their forehead felt like it was slowly boring a hole in their head.

    The victims of water torture are also deprived of food and drink, so the slowly dripping water becomes a tantalizing form of unreachable nourishment - yet another sanity-draining effect of Chinese water torture.


  • White Torture Inflicts The Pain Of Sensory Deprivation On Its Victims

    White Torture Inflicts The Pain Of Sensory Deprivation On Its Victims
    Photo: Unknown / Pxhere / CC0 1.0

    There’s solitary confinement, and there’s white torture. This weird practice is still in use in some places, such as Iran, which was accused of it in 2004. White torture involves putting someone in extreme isolation, with complete sensory deprivation. Victims say they’ve been put in stark, white rooms, dressed in white clothes, and given meals of white rice on white plates. Guards reportedly wear sound-muffling clothes, so prisoners can't hear anything.

    White torture can last several weeks. Prisoners have been known to experience, among other things, intense depression and hallucinations. Is it as bad as being flayed? Probably not. But it is still known to mess with people's heads.