You can talk all you want about the good will and loving nature of humanity, but we all know that our dark side is much deeper than our light side. In Star Wars terms, the Darth Vader of mankind is much, much stronger than the Luke Skywalker. For every Mother Theresa or Martin Luther King Jr., there are ten Jeffrey Dahmers or Adolf Hitlers. And in no area is the power of our depravity more palatable than in our sickening creativity in the art of killing each other. Over thousands of years we have come up with more grotesque ways for ending the human life than is really necessary. Seriously, beyond the standard stabbing, beating, strangling, and shooting, what else do we really need?
Apparently a lot. We couldn’t even fit them all on this list. Death by rat torture? If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you’ve seen a version of that before. A bucket of rats is placed against the victim’s chest and heated up with fire. The rats freak out (just like you would if you were trapped in a burning bucket) and escape the only way they can: by eating their way through the victim’s chest. And that’s not just something a disturbed HBO writer came up with either. That execution method has a real history. Of course, morbid execution isn’t the only crappy way to die. This list is spiced up with a few other fatal endings designed my Mother Nature herself, just to keep things interesting.
Also known as “The Boats.” Which honestly doesn’t sound that bad, does it? If someone tells you that you’re getting the Boats, you’re probably wondering, “Sailboat or yacht?” You’re probably not thinking, “Dehydration, starvation, or sepsis?” Because that’s what you’re likely going to die from. Developed by ancient Persians, Scaphism involves tying the victim between the insides of two rowboats (or hollowed out tree trunks), so that only their head, hands, and feet are exposed. They are then force-fed honey as well as covered in the stuff. As days go on, so does their feces, and so do the bugs. Insects attracted to the poop and honey bite, sting, and burrow their way into the victim’s flesh, usually driving the poor guy crazy long before he managed to die.
14. Execution By Elephant
You see “execution by elephant” and you immediately think “crushed to death.” And you’re right. But it’s not quite that simple. In India, way, way back in the day, elephants were trained to crush whomever the royalty decided needed it. But since elephants are pretty smart, they could also be trained to torment their victims for prolonged periods of times. They could spend days knocking some poor bastard around, breaking and bruising every part of him until the signal was given to end it, either by letting him go, lesson learned, or by crushing his head with the full weight of an elephant foot. Sometimes the crush was quick and merciful. Sometimes it was slow, excruciating, and tortuous. So the next time you’re at the circus (wait, who goes to the circus anymore?) and you see one of those giant, loveable beasts giving the kids rides in exchange for peanuts, remember that at one point in history they were killing machines trained to brutally execute people.
Skinning. Alive. Skinning people alive. Yup, that’s a real thing that people have really done to other real people. Because human depravity is pretty much universal, the act of flaying people either as a method of torture or execution, is found all over the planet. From the Assyrians to the Aztecs to medieval Europe to ancient China to Native Americans, humans seem to love removing the skin of other humans. When used to execute people, it sometimes took hours or even days to for the victim to die, often from blood loss or shock. Which makes sense. You’d be pretty shocked too if someone slowly cut your flesh from your body. Strangely enough, hypothermia might also be the fatal culprit during flaying. After all, skin is like our built-in coat. It’s what keeps us insulated. Without it, our bodies get real cold real fast.
12. The Brazen Bull
Did you see that overly grotesque 300 wannabe movie that came out in 2011 called Immortals? No? Well here’s a quick synopsis: the Greek god Zeus gets a mortal dude named Theseus (played by Henry Cavill a.k.a. Superman) to fight big time baddy King Hyperion (played by Mickey Rourke a.k.a. Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson). Why do we bring this up? Well somewhere in the middle of that thong and sandal slaughterfest, a few unfortunate folks run across a brazen bull. Essentially, the brazen bull is a giant bronze bull big enough for a human to fit inside with acoustic instruments created to turn the screams of its victims into bull sounds. Why would people be screaming in there? Oh, that’s because they light a fire underneath the bull and whoever is inside slowly roasts to death. And that’s not just a sick creation for the sake of filmgoers. It exists, originally commissioned by a sick Sicilian tyrant named Phalaris a couple thousand years ago.
Well everyone knows this one. Remember that Jesus guy? The one your Sunday School teacher was a big fan of? He was crucified by the Romans a couple millennia ago. And if you weren’t already aware of just how awful crucifixion is, let us spell it out for you. The victim, who was often tortured ahead of time, was forced to carry his or her own cross to the place of execution. Then their hands and feet were nailed to the cross and then… then they were just left there. You see, your hands and feet, while nice to have, aren’t necessary for survival. Having them nailed to a piece of wood isn’t going to kill you. But as you hang there in unbelievable pain for several days, you are forced to use your legs and hands to lift yourself up in order to breathe. After a while you won’t be able to do that, carbon dioxide will build up in your body, and you will slowly suffocate. A merciful death is given by breaking the legs of those crucified so that they suffocate much quicker. Messed up, huh? Think about that the next time you see one of those cute little Christian crucifixes hanging around your grandma’s neck.
10. Eaten By A Hyena
This is one of the few on this list that doesn’t come at the hands or commands of human beings. There are a lot of animals in the world that will kill you. Plenty that will eat you. None of them are particularly pleasant. But generally speaking, animals kill you quickly. They don’t want a fight, so they sever your spine like a panther or drown you quickly like an alligator. Hyenas, on the other hand, are less kind and far less swift. When it comes to smaller prey, they tend to shake them until their neck breaks, but when it comes to bigger prey, like human beings, they pounce and pin them to the ground. And then they start to eat. It doesn’t matter if their prey is still alive, or even if their conscious and still fighting. Once they have their victim pinned, hyenas start feasting.
Also known as harakiri. Also known as disemboweling yourself. Seppuku is the only variation of suicide on this list, but it is here for a good reason. You probably already know that seppuku was honorable, ritual suicide typically practiced by samurai. Not only does it require enormous balls of steel, but also a steady, skilled hand, as the samurai plunged the sword into his own stomach, then made a deep, horizontal cut. Traditionally, a second swordsman was present to decapitate the samurai, preventing prolonged suffering.
In 1970, famous Japanese author Yukio Mishima tried to instigate a military coup. When he failed, he committed seppuku, but one of his followers, Morita, failed to decapitate him after four tries. Which is really awful. So another dude had to step in and finish the job. Ashamed of his failure, Morita too committed seppuku.
8. The Judas Cradle
Did you know that the city of Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany has a torture museum? Sounds like an enlightening day trip, right? Hey, kids, let’s have a fun and educational experience that will undoubtedly emotionally scar you for life and haunt your nightmares for years to come.
On display at the Museum of Humans Doing Horrible Things to Other Humans, is something called the Judas Cradle. There’s something sinister about that name, isn’t there? Anything with the name Judas in it is probably not a good thing. The Judas Cradle was a pyramid shaped chair that the victim was slowly lowered onto, gradually either impaling them or causing them to die of an infection. How lovely. We can probably assume from the name that it was primarily reserved as a special, nasty treat for traitors.
7. Tortured By An Orca
Ah, the majestic orca. The giant water panda that always looks like it’s smiling. You know, those black and white sea mammals that do fun tricks for fish at your favorite aquarium. Orcas, also known as… killer whales — because they are deadly, intelligent, and look like whales. In the wild there are virtually no documented cases of orcas attacking humans, but captivity is another story. Several people, primarily trainers, have fallen victim to their beloved orcas over the last few decades, but the most horrific case is that of Daniel P. Dukes, who was found dead in the tank of a whale named Tilikum in 1999. Dukes had been bitten, beat up, and dragged around the tank all night. His body was such a wreck that coroners were initially uncertain of what his actual cause of death was. His genitals were bitten off and his face was so battered that his funeral had to be a closed casket event. Oh and that wasn’t the first time Tilikum had killed someone. Dukes was his second victim and not his last. Serial killer whale.
6. Radiation Poisoning
That lovely lady in the picture above is Marie Curie. If you didn’t suck in high school, you probably know her as the first female winner of the Nobel Prize due to her pioneering research on radioactivity. One of the great ironies of Curie’s death is that she eventually succumbed to the effects of radiation poisoning. Being a pioneer in a particularly deadly form of science often means you don’t fully understand all the safety requirements until it is too late.
While radiation poisoning is a direct torture device like some others on this list, its sheer number of awful symptoms is terrifying. If you, like some of the scientists working on the first atomic bomb or the citizens of Nagasaki and Hiroshima on whom they dropped that bomb, were to suffer from radiation poisoning you can expect to experience the following: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, fatigue, seizures, tremors, bleeding, infection, fever, shock, neurological distress, blisters, ulcers, necrosis of the skin, and, if you survive all that, cancer some time down the road.
5. Drawing And Quartering
It’s funny how many of these execution methods can be found in Hollywood blockbusters. And by funny, we mean disturbing. The movie that features the fun and fatal act of drawing and quartering is Mel Gibson‘s 1995 Scottish revenge fantasy, Braveheart. You might remember the death scene of Gibson’s character, William Wallace, which was more than a little unsettling. Essentially, drawing and quartering works like this: first the victim is hanged, but cut down before they die; then they are emasculated, disemboweled, and beheaded. Finally, their body is cut into four pieces and put on display. While that last act of dismemberment comes after death, everything leading up to it can be quite a lengthy process. Often it was used as a way to elicit some sort of confession from the victim with beheading promised as a merciful end once they complied. In real life William Wallace actually went through all of this. Actually it was even worse. After they disemboweled him, while he was still alive, they burned his intestines in front of him, just for fun.
You’ve heard of Vlad the Impaler, right? Of course you have. And of course you are aware that impalement was his preferred method of both executing and horrifying his enemies. Vlad was a fifteenth century ruler of an area that is now modern Romania and he just so happened to be one of the inspirations for the Dracula legend. Big V got his nickname from his proclivity toward ramming giant spikes up people’s asses and letting them slowly slide down until the spike emerged from their chest. We’re not joking at all. That’s how being impaled works. Survival times vary widely, ranging from a few seconds to several days depending on exactly how precisely the spike was shoved inside you. If it pierced your major organs, you died quickly. If it missed, you might be hanging there for almost a week before you expired.
3. Burned At The Stake
Being burned at the stake is an execution method most well known for killing alleged witches, but witches (or supposed witches) are far from its only victims. Burning has been used throughout history to punish political traitors, religious heretics, rebellious slaves, those committing illegal sex acts, and many others. In fact, it is still used in parts of the world today, thanks to the evil ways of groups like ISIS who have been known to burn people alive.
If you ever happen to reach the unfortunate point of being burned alive, pray that it is a large fire. That way you will mostly likely die from smoke inhalation far before most of your body is burned. A smaller fire, on the other hand, will slowly roast your flesh, leaving you to smell your own skin being cooked long before you eventually pass away.
On May 5, 1981, Bobby Sands, an IRA member died in prison after a 66 day hunger strike. If reading about it isn’t super interesting to you, you can watch Michael Fassbender in the movie Hunger, which details the strike. Let us reiterate that it took 66 days for Bobby Sands to die from not eating. That’s over two months. Nine other prisoners also died during the strike. Of course, people all over the world die from starvation, especially in nations struck with famine and war.
As you starve to death, your body does its best to survive, initially using your stored fat to live off, but eventually moving onto other tissues, such as your muscles. Ailments such as scurvy and anemia are common due to vitamin deficiency, and victims of starvation will likely suffer from diarrhea, skin rashes, edema, and eventually heart failure.
1. Death By A Thousand Cuts
Similar to death by flaying, Death by a Thousand Cuts is a Chinese execution technique also known as lingchi, that was eventually banned in 1905. Because it is such a cruel method of death, Death by a Thousand Cuts was generally reserved for exceptional serious crimes, such as high treason or for those who murdered their parents.
Just to be clear, this isn’t Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts. The cuts involved were not particularly small. Instead, flesh was typically carved from the victim’s body, often from their thighs, buttocks, chest, arms, and sometimes face. Additionally, amputation of the limbs would sometimes occur. It could last as long as the torturer decided, meaning that some victims did not die for several days, although it often only lasted a matter of minutes.