You may have heard their names before, for they are the stuff of nightmares: the Iron Maiden, The Rack, or Thumbscrews — devices so wicked that stories about them have traveled down through the centuries. There are museums devoted to them; the instruments of torture made famous by Tomás de Torquemada and the rulers of medieval Europe.
10 Ancient And Disturbing Forms Of Torture
1. The Iron Maiden
Torture is defined by Dictionary.com as “the act of inflicting excruciating pain, as punishment or revenge, as a means of getting a confession or information, or for sheer cruelty”. One of the most famous and disputed of the early torture devices, the Iron Maiden, is designed to do just that. The idea is simple: it was a spike-filled, coffin-shaped box. The victim was placed inside, and the cover would be closed. The spikes would, then, pierce the victim’s body. The longer the spikes, the deeper the victim was pierced.
It has become the standard for medieval torture devices — except, it may not be. While some sources say the device originated in Germany during the High Middle Ages, others dispute the claim, saying the device wasn’t invented until the 1800s. The most famous Iron Maiden is the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg. Built sometime in the 1800s, it was destroyed during WWII when the allies bombed Germany. The most scary thing of all? In 2003, an Iron Maiden was found in the backyard of the administrative compound of the Iraqi national Olympic committee in central Baghdad. It is believed to have belonged to Uday Hussein, the head of Iraq’s Olympic Committee. Hussein had been rumored to torture athletes whose performances were sub-par. It should be noted that device showed signs of use with worn and missing spikes!
2. The Rack
Its use was simple. The victim’s hands would be attached to the top roller and their feet to the bottom. There was a lever attached to a ratchet mechanism, and it would be pulled to turn the rollers. Gradually, turn by turn, the victims arms and legs would be stretched until the joints were completely torn. Often, a victim’s body was so torn that ligaments and tendons were never return to their original form, and victims would be left without the use of their arms and legs.
3. The Brazen Bull
This one is going back even further in time to ancient Greece to a sinister sculpture by a bronze worker named Perillos. He devised a torture device called the Brazen Bull. He discussed his idea with Phalaris, tyrant of Acragas (modern day Sicily), who embraced the idea and the bull was made.
The bull was life-sized, brass, and hollow with a door on the side. The victim would be placed inside and a fire lit underneath the bull’s belly. The victim would burn to death inside the bull, slowly. They say it was akin to being boiled to death.
4. Rat Torture
A large apparatus was not always required to inflict pain and torment on those deemed deserving. Rat torture was a simple and inexpensive way to get the point across. All that was needed was a rat and a victim. It is so gruesome, it even made its way into Game of Thrones.
The victim would be tied down. There were a few different ways to proceed from there. Typically, slits were cut into the stomach, and starving rats would be placed into the slits. They would, then, gnaw their way back out. Sometimes, cages or buckets were used to make sure the pesky rats had only one way out.
5. The Tub
Plague-ridden rats make almost anyone’s skin crawl, but maggots are worse. Imagine: sitting in a tub with only the head sticking out, thusly:
Some sources say the tub was full of water, others do not specify. Either way, the face was then painted with milk and honey — not so bad, until the flies showed up. The victim, having been fed regularly, was by now sitting in a tub full of their own ick. This provided the perfect environment for all of those pesky flies to lay eggs. The victim would then be eaten by worms and maggots. Spiegel.de reports one victim lasted 17 days and decayed alive.
Those at sea were not exempt from torturous forms of punishment. As early as 1560, sailors in the Dutch navy could be subject to keelhauling if they stepped out of line.
Tied up so he could not swim and weighted, the sailor was tied to a rope and dragged across the underside or keel of the ship. The rope could be strung either from port to starboard (left to right) or bow to stern (front to back). Aside from the risk of drowning (witch is terrible, in and of itself), the sailor faced being torn apart by the barnacles that clung to the keel. Other devastating outcomes were having limbs torn off or decapitation. The results of keelhauling often depended on how deep under the ship the sailor was hanging and how fast the rope was pulled. Most sailors drowned.
7. The Breast Ripper
Women had their own special device called a Breast Ripper. This was generally used as a form of punishment on women who were thought to be adulteresses or engaged in crimes unique to women such as self-performed abortions, but it has been used in interrogations, as well. Typically made of iron and often heated, the device had one purpose: to rip off the breasts of women.
The device was most popular in Bavaria and was often used in front of the victims’ children!
8. The Judas Chair or Judas Cradle
This is one of the more sinister forms of torture.
The victim was typically stripped naked then hung from ropes above the pointed tip or the peaked “chair”. The ropes were tied in such a way that any movement of one of the feet or legs would lead to movement in the other. The point was placed in either the victim’s anus or vagina. Sometime weights were used to weigh the victim down, which made the pain unspeakable. Victims could also be rocked or dropped onto the top of the pyramid. There was no standard length of time it took a person to die. It should also be noted that the devices were rarely if ever cleaned, so, if the device didn’t kill the victim, the raging infection that ensued surely would.
9. Foot Roasting
The Knights Templar were among those that used this form of torture.
Foot roasting was typically used a a form of punishment for minor crimes or to get those accused of crimes to confess. Victims were placed in stocks that held the victim’s bare feet. A fire was lit, and a screen was placed between the fire and victim’s feet. If the victim was “uncooperative”, the barrier was removed and the feet exposed to the flame. This would continue until a confession was obtained or until the feet were completely burned. If no confession was obtained, then other forms of torture could be used. Victims did not often die from foot roasting.
10. The Crocodile Tube
This cross between the Iron Maiden and Brazen Bull was a rarely used form of torture included piercing and fire. The victim was placed in a spike-lined tube with only the head and feet left visible. The tube was, then, tightened, rendering the individual completely immobile. The tube was then heated from underneath. On top of the searing pain from the heat, torturers would often inflict wounds on the exposed head and feet, as well. The victim would either confess or die.
This is just a small sampling of the wicked methods that have been used over time to extract confessions and execute criminals. While the history on the use of these methods and devices can be unclear, one fact holds true: real or not, these are some evil, fear-inspiring torture techniques that disturbingly came out of the minds of human beings.