Banned Deadly Corporal Punishments

Punishment is said to be the infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offense or in other article saying it is an authoritative imposition of an undesirable outcome upon an individual, in response to a particular action that is not acceptable or somehow can be threatening to some.

These are randoms deadly corporal punishments from different countries of different eras  that may or may not be familiar to some people.


Breaking on the wheel

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This was a punishment especially common in France and Germany although it was also used in other parts of Europe. The condemned man was tied to a wheel and the executioner then used an iron bar or hammer to break each arm and leg in several places. Sometimes a blow to the chest or strangulation was used to end the man’s agony but he could be left to die of thirst. Breaking on the wheel was abolished in Germany in 1827.




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Burning is a very old method of killing people. In 1401 a law in England made burning the penalty for heresy. In the 16th century during the reign of Mary (1553-1558) nearly 300 Protestants were burned to death in England. In the 16th and 17th centuries ‘witches’ in England were usually hanged but in Scotland and most of Europe they were burned. In the 18th century in Britain women found guilty of murdering their husbands were burned. However burning as a punishment was abolished in Britain in 1790.

Sometimes a person about to be burned was strangled with a rope first to spare them pain.


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This was a Chinese punishment. It was a wooden board locked around the prisoners neck. He could not reach his mouth with his arms and so could not feed himself or drink without help.


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The crank was a handle that convicts had to turn again and again. Normally the prisoner had to turn the handle thousands of times before he could eat. It was hard and very monotonous work. The crank was abolished in British prisons in 1898.


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Although drowning is an obvious method of killing people it was seldom used as a method of execution. The Roman writer Tacitus said that the Germanic peoples drowned cowards in fens under piles of sticks. The Anglo-Saxons also sometimes used drowning as a punishment. In the Middle Ages drowning was sometimes used to punish murder. In England in the 13th century it was enacted that anybody who committed murder on the king’s ships would be tied to their victims body and thrown into the sea to drown.

In Portsmouth at that time male murderers were burned but female murderers were tied to a post in the harbor and left to drown when the tide came in.

Drowning was occasionally used in Europe through the following centuries. It was revived in the French Revolution in Nantes by a man named Jean Baptiste Carrier as a convenient way of killing large numbers of people. They were loaded into vessels with trapdoors, which were then sunk.

Hanging, drawing and quartering

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This was the punishment in England for treason. The man was drawn on a hurdle pulled by a horse to the place of execution. He was hanged (strangled by being suspended by a rope) but when he was still alive and sometimes conscious he was cut down. The executioner cut open his stomach and ‘drew out’ his entrails. Finally the man was beheaded and his body was cut into quarters.

After 1814 the full sentence was no longer carried out. Instead the man was hanged until he was dead and then beheaded. He was not disemboweled. The last case was in 1820. However hanging, drawing and quartering was not formally abolished until 1870.

Inhalation of Smoke

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In Aztec society naughty children were sometimes punished by having their head over a fire containing chilies and being forced to inhale the smoke.

Keel Hauling

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This was first recorded in the 16th century. In the Dutch navy keelhauling meant dropping a man into the sea then hauling him under the keel of the ship with a rope. Barnacles would cut his skin to shreds and there was the possibility of drowning.


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Mutilation included blinding, cutting off hands, ears and noses or cutting out the tongue. In the Ancient World the Assyrians often punished people by cutting off their ears, lips or nose. In Saxon England and through the Middle Ages mutilation was used as a punishment for stealing or poaching. In the 16th and 17th centuries cutting off the ears was used as a punishment in England.


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Sometimes in the bottom of a dungeon was a pit into which prisoners were lowered. It was called an oubliette. The name comes from the French word oublier meaning to forget because the unfortunate prisoner was forgotten.

Picket or Piquet

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This was a military punishment common in the 17th century. The prisoner was hung by his wrist and one foot was placed on a pointed but not actually sharp wooden stake. Soon his wrist would become very tired and the temptation was to support his weight on the pointed stake, which was very painful. The picket died out in the 18th century because it made it difficult for the soldier to march afterwards.

Picking Oakum

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Ships ropes covered in tar were called oakum. In the 19th century the rope was pulled apart by hand and recycled. Oakum was picked by convicts and people in workhouses. It may not sound hard work but it made fingers bleed and blister. Convicts and workhouse inmates were made to pick oakum because it was such unpleasant work.


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In England if a person refused to plead guilty or not guilt to a crime they were pressed. A wooden board was placed on their body and stone or iron weights were added until the person agreed to plead – or died. The last man to be pressed to death in England died in Horsham, Sussex in 1735.

Scold’s Bridle

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This was a metal frame place over a woman’s head. It had a bit that stuck in her mouth to prevent her talking. The scold’s bridle or branks was used in Scotland by the 16th century and was used in England from the 17th century. It was last used in Britain in 1824.


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In hot countries a sweatbox was a cramped cell where the prisoner would sweat until he felt the affects of dehydration.


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This was a military punishment. It was a wooden cage on a pivot. The prisoner was shut inside and then it was spun around until the prisoner became nauseous and vomited.



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