Torture. For ages, humans have used whatever means were at their disposal to get people to confess, whether it be to enemies on the battlefield or traitors within the realm. Is torture gone? No way. As long as humans walk the Earth, they’ll find ways to inflict pain. As a testament to our creativity, many movies invent new ways to portray the destruction of the human spirit, like in the 1970s movies “Marathon Man” and “A Clockwork Orange.” With that in mind, here are 10 of the most infamous methods of torture that have been used throughout the world.
Used in the Middle Ages, the rack was a method where a victim was placed on a wooden, rectangular frame. The victim’s ankles were fastened with ropes or chains to a roller at one end of the frame, and the wrists to the other. A ratchet allowed the torturer to gradually increase the tension, which literally stretched the victim. The result? The victim’s joints became dislocated and muscle fibers torn. The ligaments created such popping sounds that torturers often had other victims witness it in order to heighten their fear.
Pear of Anguish
The Pear of Anguish (sounds like a Dungeons and Dragons spell) was used on female adulterers, male homosexuals and liars during the Middle Ages. The metal device was shaped like a pear and could be inserted into the victim’s orifices (vagina for women, anus for men, mouth for liars) and with a turn of a screw, the pear would pop open with enough force to either break a victim’s pelvic bone or jaw, or mutilate their you-know-what. Yikes.
For this one, the Middle Ages can say “Not me,” as this piece was created in the 19th century. The item from which the heavy-metal band takes its name, an iron maiden is shaped like a sarcophagus, tall enough to enclose a man. It has a hinged front with spikes embedded inside. As the door closed, so did the spikes. Supposedly, the spikes weren’t long enough to penetrate too deeply, just enough to cause pain. There were even spikes meant to pierce the eyes. Who comes up with this stuff?
Leave it to the English to create a method of torture that sounds akin to grabbing some tea. It was used against rebels during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and involved pouring tar into a paper cap or hat, which was then forced onto the suspect’s head. Hot cap on head: not cool. The cap was allowed to cool and then would be ripped from the victim’s head, taking with it his scalp. The victim was then disfigured for life.
The pillory is one of the oldest devices, dating back to 820 A.D., and if you’ve ever visited historic Williamsburg, you’ve probably seen a version of it. It’s that wooden thing where victims placed their head and wrists into holes. When the boards are closed over the suspect, he’s stuck there. Aside from the stress of holding an uncomfortable position, the pillory doesn’t do anything. The torture comes from the townspeople. Depending on the crime, the victim was either simply humiliated or left to suffer taunts or worse, like thrown vegetables, human waste, or even fists. However, sometimes the pillory was just the beginning of torture, allowing the torturer to flail, whip or brand the trapped victim.
Torture isn't limited to land. Ships at sea needed to punish their sailors, and they did so in an ingenious way. The poor sailor was tied to a rope and thrown overboard, which is pretty bad, but it gets worse. The rope was looped under the ship so that when they dragged the sailor back to the ship, he went beneath it. We like to think ships are sleek and clean, but they were usually lined with barnacles. At best, the sailor would get scraped to all hell. At worst, he would drown. The Dutch used it until 1853.
The Breast Ripper
Reserved for women who were accused of adultery, a metal claw fits over a woman’s exposed breast. The claws could be placed in a fire (so it burned) or in ice, but that’s not the worst of it. The device was used to then mutilate the breasts, literally tearing them apart.
The Five Techniques
The five techniques are interrogation practices used by the Northern Irish and British governments in the 1970s. The techniques included standing, hooding, subjecting to noise, deprivation of sleep, and deprivation of food and drink. (Except for the hooding, it sounds like city living to us.) In 1972, Prime Minister Edward Heath stated that these methods wouldn’t be used in future interrogations. Of course, that was 1972, in a pre-9/11 world. Interrogation methods have since changed, as anyone knows who has watched TV in the past 10 years.
The Scavenger’s Daughter
Sometimes called the street sweeper’s daughter, this is the original stress position. Picture half of a hula-hoop, except made of iron in which the victim had to crouch inside. The torturer could then tighten the device, making it more than just uncomfortable; it could crack the victim’s ribs and dislocate the spine. Supposedly, the force of compression could be so intense, blood sprayed from the fingertips.
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Picture a saltshaker, but instead of releasing salt, it’s filled with hot lead or boiling oil. Like the rain of Satan, it was used to sprinkle pain onto its victims.