It’s an average day in an average city. It is sort of cloudy, you think it may begin to rain soon and you try to huddle towards some shelter. You enter a mall and plan on cutting through it as you head to work. A bomb goes off. Half of the mall has been blown to bits; screams and smoke fill the air. Authorities have the culprit. They know he has hidden another bomb somewhere in the city, but he is not talking. Minutes go by; he is not talking…minutes go by; he is not talking…minutes go by; he is still not talking. The chief interrogator begins to sweat: he knows there is not much time left, he wonders if he would be justified to proceed with torture, seeing no other alternative.
Though in modern society torture is a hot button issue, for hundreds of years it was deemed, if not morally acceptable, necessary. Torture has been used as far back as ancient times and as recently as today. Used to extort confessions, to punish or even for entertainment, torture devices constitute a horrific part of the history of crime and punishment. The human body is fragile, and as human beings are creative as well as resourceful, a wide variety of torture methods have been invented. The following list highlights history’s 10 most cruel torture devices ever conceived.
*Readers be warned: the information you are about to read is not pleasant and is not for the faint or weak of heart.*
10. Brazen Bull
Perhaps one the most sadistic inventions in history, the Brazen bull originates from what is now Sicily, and was designed by a man with the reputation of eating infants (though whether these claims are true or not is a mystery). Phalaris, the inventor, commissioned the artist Perilaus to bring this torture device to life. The instrument was a container in the shape of a bull; the victim was to be placed within the bull, which would then be light on fire. Perilaus followed Phalaris’ instructions, except for one small detail: he added pipes connecting the inside of the bull to the bull’s open mouth (the only place of airflow). As the victim inside would burn alive and scream in agony, the pipes would transform the screams into “melodius bellowings.” The added soothing musical aspect of this torture device makes it all the more terrifying, much like in Clockwork Orange.
9. The Pear of Anguish
Made famous on television and on the Internet by shows such as Bones and Criminal Minds, the “Pear of Anguish” is a torture device that is still surrounded by a shroud of mystery. Though attributed to medieval times in pop culture, the true time period in which “the Pear of Anguish” came to life is still debated amongst historians. As it was discovered that the genuineness of many Pears of Anguish held by museums is questionable, the truth behind these machines continues to elude researchers. However, what is known about these devices is how they are supposed to work: the instrument is forced within a chosen orifice (anus, vagina or mouth) and slowly opened so as to cause a prolonged, excruciating pain.
8. Head Crusher
Needless to say, the head is one of the most important body parts for survival, as the skull contains the brain. Humans go to great lengths to protect their heads: wearing helmets, hats in the winter, even sacrificing a limb as a reflex in dangerous situations. The fact that this torture device focuses on such a crucial body part makes it all the more horrifying. The device is very simple: the victim’s head is placed under the cap and the torturer cranks the top of the device to make the cap slowly lower and crush the victim’s head. Bit by bit, pieces of the head break: the teeth, the jaw, the eye sockets (resulting in the eyes popping out), and lastly the skull (causing brains to spurt out of the victim’s ears).
7. Iron Chair
Also known as the “Spanish chair,” the Iron chair can be traced back all the way to classical Roman times, during the persecution of Christians. The device was a simple metal chair. The portable version was foldable and had spikes at the bottom of each leg so that it could remain firmly placed in the ground. The victim was strapped to the chair, as coal was placed in a pan underneath the seat to heat up the chair and scold the victim. The device was light enough for a mule to carry, making it a practical and effective instrument and therefore, the choice torture device of Ferdinand VII, King of Naples, in the early nineteenth century.
6. Breast Ripper
Most women throughout history have not lived easy lives, particularly those who had to suffer due to this torture device. Being designed specifically for women, the breast ripper (whose name alone is enough to make someone cringe,) is a metal tong with two sharp points at each end. It is placed on the victim’s breast and pressure is applied, ripping away chunks of skin. The victim will either be scarred for life, or succumb to the injuries. Sickeningly, this torture device is still in use today. ISIS uses the breast ripper to punish women who expose too much skin, or breast feed in public, as tragically testified by a victim who survived but feels her “femininity has been destroyed completely.”
5. Catherine Wheel
The wheel: an incredibly useful invention with unknown origins. Surely modern man would not be as advanced today without it. However, technology is not all rainbows and sunshine, as commonly known, it can have a darker side. Apart from helping facilitate travelling and transportation by allowing carts to move smoothly and so forth, wheels were also used in the fifteenth to eighteenth century to torture individuals. The Catherine Wheel, which got its name from one of its supposed victims, (Saint Catherine of Alexandria,) was used as a form of public execution and entertainment. The victim firstly had all of his/her limbs broken; the limbs were then wrapped along the spokes of the wheel; finally the wheel was hoisted up high for all to see, including vultures, which, would feast on the victim, dead or alive.
4. Rat Torture
Game of Thrones is both a popular HBO television show and book series (although the name of the book series is technically A Song of Ice and Fire). Despite it being fictional and taking place in an alternate universe, it still contains some historical accuracy, including the Rat Torture scene in the fourth episode of the second series, “Garden of Bones” (not recommended to watch if you have a weak stomach). The first step for rat torture is tying down the victim. Next, a rat is put on the victim’s stomach and a metal container is placed over the rat. The container is then heated, making the rat look for a way to escape. Not being able to claw through metal, the rat would instead burrow through the victim’s stomach ultimately resulting in a slow, painful death.
3. Judas Cradle
Picture a stool, with a pyramidal seat. Now picture slowly being lowered onto that seat while naked: this is the Judas Cradle. The Judas Cradle was yet another medieval torture device. The victim would be held up in the air with ropes or chains and slowly lowered onto the pyramidal stool, with the tip of the stool inserted into the victim’s anus or vagina. Victims could be left on the Judas Cradle anywhere between several hours or several days, with weights sometimes added to increase pain. Resulting death almost certain: if the victim did not die of impalement, they would most likely die of an infection soon after.
2. The Rack
One of the most well known methods of torture is the rack. The rack was popular in England during the Tudor period, and was used to punish criminals accused of serious crimes, including treason. The victim would be tied down to a large wooden surface; each limb would be fastened individually. Tension on the body would slowly be increased through use of cogs and a ratchet, slowly tearing apart the victim. The device would rip tendons, dislocate joints, and even break bones. A mix of agonized and loud cracks would fill the air, as the instrument would be in use. If the victim was lucky enough to survive the ordeal, he/she would be very likely to suffer from some sort of permanent physical damage.
Of all the forms of torture previously discussed on this list, Scaphism may be one of the slowest and most horrifying. The name of the torture originates from the Greek word for “skaphe,” which means “scooped out.” The unfortunate victim would be stripped down and strapped to a boat or similar container, with another boat on top to form a sort of coffin with the victim’s arms, legs and head protruding. The victim would then be force-fed mass amounts of milk and honey to result in intense diarrhoea; extra honey would be smothered on the victim to attract swarms of bugs. The boat would then be set adrift in a body of water, as the victim lay exposed to the sun and elements, soaking in their own excrements. Death occurred after days of being out on the water and could be caused by dehydration, starvation, septic shock or a combination of all three. In one case recorded, the victim survived for a shocking 17 days!