9 Most Bizarre Punishments From Ancient History
Well, they say that ancient people lived in simpler times. But if you were on the wrong side of the law, you were done. And not just done, no quick death, oh no sir. Criminal punishments were heinous, brutal, shockingly evil, and vile. And if you were lucky enough to get a non-violent punishment, then the others were simply humiliating.
I’ve been doing a lot of research on ancient history lately. I was trying to understand how people behaved back then, what was their thought process? Did their culture have any influence on their behavior? Would they behave the same way if they were here today?
The way people handle their judicial system and the sort of punishments they give to convicts, tells us a lot about them. I’ve compiled a list of nine most bizarre punishments from ancient history that literally gave me goosebumps. Give them a read and let me know what you think.
1. Crushing By Elephants
Well, this was one of the most terrifying methods of execution and it comes from ancient Southeast Asia.
The convicts were executed by crushing them using elephants. This method was quite popular in India from the Mughal period until the late 19th century. The criminals were laid down and wild angry elephants ran over them repeatedly ensuring a quick yet painful death.
2. Death in a Cage
Medieval Italy and England were strange places. If anyone was sentenced to death then it meant that they had to go through both agonizing torture as well as public humiliation. And being isolated naked in a cage was the way to do it. The criminal was put inside an iron cage in a public place without any clothes or food and starved to death.
3. Cutting the Nose
Ouch. Ancient Egyptians used to cut people’s noses off if they broke the laws of the state. Once the punishment was served, the criminals were sent to prison city Rhinocorura, near Gaza.
It was a place full of crooks without noses. No one was above the law in ancient Egypt and corrupt government officials too were given the same punishment. Once a Pharaoh's wife slit his throat in his sleep. She along with all the conspirators were sentenced to have their noses cut off.
4. Animal Masks And Humiliating Badges
People liked to ridicule and humiliate criminals in the Middle ages. The best non-violent punishment was forcing the criminals to wear horrifying animal masks and roam them around the city.
Apart from these terrifying masks, criminals were given humiliating badges which they had to wear for their whole lives. The badges indicated that those criminals were not to be trusted with anything ever again. That’s rough but still better than getting your nose cut off.
5. Mud, the Glorius Mud
Execution by suffocation was a very common practice in ancient times. However, in the Medieval period, a very strange kind of suffocation technique was used called mud, the glorious mud.
Historians tell us that the criminal was killed by throwing him/her in a pit full of stinky mud. The convict either died by drowning or by suffocation. In medieval France, suffocation by mud was reserved only for unfaithful wives.
6. Death in a Metal Bull
Even writing about it is giving me chills. In ancient Greece, people were punished by cooking them inside a giant bull made of bronze.
The convicted person was put locked inside a metal bull and a fire was lit under it. This slowly burnt the person to death. The people passing by used to enjoy this act of brutality and thought of it as some kind of entertainment.
7. The Dunking or Cucking Stool
The Cucking stools were used in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth England and New England to punish women accused of doing something unwomanly. At that time gossiping, backbiting, having an argument with the husband, and fighting with the neighbors were considered unwomanly things.
The convicted woman was tied up to a stool and then dropped into a lake or a stream again and again. The Cucking stool is sometimes also referred to as a Ducking stool in history books.
8. The Brutal Ordeal Trials
The ordeal trials were a test of innocence or guilt by inflicting severe pain on the accused. If the accused survived the pain, they were innocent, if they didn’t, they were guilty.
There were basically three types of ordeal trials. One was cold water, where the accused was tied up and thrown into the water. In this case, floating was a sign of guilt, and sinking to the bottom meant you’re innocent. The second one was hot water where a boiling stone was put on the accused’s body.
If the wounds healed within three days, it meant you’re innocent, if they didn’t it meant you’re guilty. The last one was the hot iron, where the accused had to hold a hot iron without burning in order to prove their innocence.
9. The Iron Maiden
No, I’m not talking about the famous English band Iron Maiden. “The Iron Maiden” was a very popular instrument in Europe in medieval times.
It was basically like an iron cabinet with multiple lethal metal spikes on the inside. The criminals were forced inside the cabinet and it was slowly closed until they died. Sometimes it wasn’t fully closed if the purpose was just to torture the criminal.
More from the Author
What Sex Was Like in Ancient China
Eight surprising facts about sex and sexuality in ancient China.