The act of torture itself is disturbing enough in and of itself: It is the act of inflicting pain and extreme discomfort over another as a way to gather information or punish. Perhaps it could be argued that torture is worse than death itself, especially as it's usually executed in such a way that the victim can't know whether the act will ever come to an end. Along with the physical pain and discomfort, torture is also psychologically destructive, usually leaving deep mental scars.
Torture is common practice, even today. As time has progressed, the methods used have transitioned from largely physical to more insidious and psychological, so there’s a reduced chance of the subject dying during the process. In the western world, torture is typically used to gain information, rather than as a disciplinary method. In most parts of the world, torture is (supposedly) regulated so that it doesn't become inhumane.
In the past, corporeal punishment was much more common than it is today, and torture was an accepted punitive measure. So, what was torture like in those dark days? You’re about to find out. Here, we've put together a retrospective of the top ten most gruesome and disturbing torture methods used throughout the history of mankind. The material below is not for the faint hearted, as some necessarily graphic descriptions follow.
10 The Stocks
The stocks are probably one of the most well known methods of torture thanks to its continuing depiction in pop culture. Victims subjected to the stocks were trapped into these wooden prisons by the feet, wrists, or neck, depending on the nature of the crime. The psychological humiliation of being locked in the stocks in the town square was bad enough, but the true torture came with being at the mercy of the public. Villagers and passers by would commonly attack people in the stocks inflicting pain, sexually assaulting them, and throwing food at them, amongst other unsettling retributions that could be carried out by the public without repercussions.
The thumbscrew torture device may seem like a walk in the park compared to the other torture methods later in this article. But have you ever hit your thumb with a hammer? Well, now think about the pain of having all your fingers crushed by this little device. But this device's use wasn't just limited to thumbs or fingers: Other body parts could be subjected to the thumbscrew, with appendages being crushed at a painfully slow rate depending on the nature of the crime.
8 Chastity Belts
We’ve seen the running joke in pop culture in regards to chastity belts and how they were used to maintain the purity of a virgin before her wedding night. But they were also used to keep a wife in check while her husband was away. While the wearer didn't experience much discomfort besides the fact of wearing an iron panty, the individual who tried to have his way with her would be in for a painfully rude awakening in the nether-regions. Note the sharp, toothed lining of the underside of the belt...
7 The Pear
Also known as “the Pear of Anguish”, this device didn’t result in death, but inflicted major internal and cosmetic damage. The pear was inserted into the mouth if you were a heretic, the vagina if you were a witch or a prostitute, or the anus if you were a homosexual. There was a crank inserted into the pear, which expanded upon turning the crank. So, as you can see, people often ended up with broken jaws and teeth or internal damage depending on where the pear was inserted.
Rope is an incredibly versatile tool in the world of torture. You can hang the victim in such a way that their neck won’t break, but instead they are doomed to suffocate to death while hanging in mid-air. You can tie a rope to each limb and attach them to different animals. Let the animal loose at full speed and you can dismember your victim in an instant. Of course most of the torture methods used with rope resulted in death, but if you cut the victim down at the right moment, you could also get some valuable information from them while they were still alive.
5 The Cage
This particular method may make you a bit nervous about vermin. The cage was a method that involved placing a cage over the chest and body of the victim with a rat, mouse, or other sort of small critter placed inside. With no method to escape, the critter has to resort to digging and burying itself inside the victim’s organs in order to survive. So, not only were you chained and bound to a cold hard floor, but also you had a little creature burying itself through your insides with the “pleasure” of feeling it move and squirm inside you.
4 Torture Chair
What makes the Torture Chair particularly cringe worthy is the fact that it’s covered in spikes and straps at the feet and hands to avoid any sort of escape. Of course, a device like this could hardly give anyone a quick death, but can certainly make him or her feel enormously uncomfortable. The chair itself was usually not the main star in the torture session, but instead used as an additional tool for the purpose of keeping a victim in place while inflicting more pain through other torture methods. Variations of the torture chair included coffin-like structures that functioned in the same way.
3 Judas Cradle
Get ready to clench your bottom a bit. Though it looks innocent, the Judas Cradle was a wooden triangle set on legs. The top of the triangle was pointy and the victim would be forced to sit on it. Sitting on something narrow can be painful enough, but the tip of the triangle took it to a whole other level where gravity is the victim's worst enemy. As the victim sits on the tip, it would slowly start to rip them open starting at the bottom...
2 The Tub
Get your gag reflexes ready as this torture method is going to take a really disturbing turn. Victims were placed in a tub with a lid that had a hole for the victim's head. The victim’s face would be smeared with honey to attract flies and other bugs which would feed off of their faces. The victim would be kept alive and received food, and if a bathroom trip would be needed the victim would simply have to let it happen in the tub and would be forced to stew in their own excrement, which in turn produced maggots and other diseases. The tub was also used with a spinning wheel where the victim was tied to the wheel and forced to deal with having his face submerged at every spin.
This is probably one of the more squeamish methods of torture. The torture method that gave Vlad the Impaler his famous title saw the victim’s hands bound so that there were no means of escape. The victim would then be lifted up, and a high stake stuck into the ground would be inserted through their back passage. Depending on the weight and strength of the victim, death by impalement could take hours or days before reaching a vital organ and killing them. Sometimes the top of the stake could be seen coming out of the victim’s mouth if a bone didn’t stop it.