25 Most Disturbing Torture Techniques Used Throughout History

Jay Dawson December 12th 2016 Entertainment
We’ve always been a pretty awful race, us humans. No matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to stop murdering, terrorizing, and inflicting war on each other. But we’ve never been so creatively awful as in medieval times. Conjured up by some of the sickest minds in history, these depraved devices took human suffering to the extreme. You might want to stop eating lunch before you start reading.

1. The Spanish Donkey

One of the strange quirks of history is that often it was the Christians that came up with the most sadistic torture devices. The Spanish Donkey, for example, was used by the Inquisition and involved sitting astride a wedge-shaped board while weights were added to the feet. The wedge would do what wedges do, and another heathen would be “converted”.

2. The Saw

What do you do when the victim of your sadistic procedure keeps passing out on you? Simple: you turn them upside down. That’s what these horrible people did during their work with the saw – they would let the blood rush to their head as they sawed them in half, so the victims would remain conscious the whole time. Sometimes they would leave them after cutting only halfway through. If you needed more proof about how sick we can be, here you go.

3. The Impaling Pole

Professional 15th century psycho Vlad the Impaler used this little number to torture up to 20,000 people using his horrific reign in Romania. It was a simple method – the unfortunate soul was forced to sit on a thick pole with a sharp point – but often three days went by before the victim had impaled himself by his own body weight. In the meantime, we suppose you just had to wear earplugs.

4. The Rack

Y’all know how the rack works, right? Tie a guy up by the hands and feet and pull them apart until all the bones in his body break? Need any further explanation? Want to hear the turn of the handle, the cracks of the joints, the bloody screams? No? Good, because we’d rather forget this one ever existed.

5. The Rat Box

There’s some torture devices which are so depraved, all you can do is scratch your head and wonder how they came up with something like that. For instance, this one, where an open-sided box of rats was clamped against someone’s body, then heated on the other side. The rats would try and escape the heat by, well, burrowing. We really are a race of sickos.

6. The Sicilian Bull

Ah, Greece. Birthplace of nice things like democracy, souvlaki, and… this grisly thing. Designed to be both fun for torturer and torturee, the victim was placed inside a cramped, solid brass bull figure then roasted alive. As they screamed, the sound would resonate through the brass opening and sound like a bull roaring. Which definitely wouldn’t give you nightmares.

7. The Catherine Wheel

It’s not entirely clear why this was called the Catherine Wheel (was she a big fan of Pat Sajak?), but the name hardly matters when you consider the specifics. After being strapped to the wheel, the victim was slowly rotated while the torturer broke several bones with a hammer. That wasn’t the end of it – the victim was then left, still on the wheel, at the top of a long pole, to die a slow and agonizing death. Forever unable to buy a vowel.

8. The Tub

This very horrible form of punishment torture involved sitting in a Playboy Mansion hot tub after one of their wild parties, and before it had been cleaned of any… fluids. We’re kidding, of course. This was far nicer than that. The victim would be forced into a tub where they were smeared with milk and honey and made to sit there for days. Eventually they would be wallowing in their own filth and host to any number of flies and maggots, which would eventually eat them alive.

9. The Judas Cradle

Kind of an Impaling Pole 2.0, or beta test (depending on how you look at it), in this version the dead-to-be would be lowered by ropes onto a small pyramid. Instead of just impaling them, it would slowly and inexorably also tear them apart. It also was never washed, although that probably would have been the last of your complaints.

10. The Judas Chair

If Judas was alive today, he’d have good grounds to sue for brand defamation. It seems like his name is on half of these torture devices. Like this one, the Judas Chair, which was an ordinary chair until it was covered in tiny spikes and fiercely heated from below. Sure, it was effective, but would you really want to be associated with something as sadistic as that?

11. The Iron Maiden

If you thought 80s metal was bad enough, spare a thought for the poor saps who were subject to much more than lame gothic imagery. One of the more famous torture devices in history, the victim would be placed in a kind of iron cage with dozens of spikes pointing inwards at their fleshy bits. Just try to mosh in that thing.

12. Crocodile Shears

Awful, yes, but not very inspired. Really, apart from being heated, this device is more or less a direct rip-off of nature. Open up the jaws, bite down, tear off a limb. Just like a crocodile. Any torture device design intern could have come up with that one. They didn’t even bother thinking up a clever name.

13. The Breast Ripper

Just in case the ladies thought they were missing out, those reliable Middle Ages men found something horrible they could do to them, too. As if the raping and pillaging wasn’t enough. This one was a kind of white-hot and spiked version of a claw grabber, which would tear chunks of flesh from the chest of the victim. Men seem to have improved since then. Mostly.

14. Hanged, Drawn And Quartered

Only finally abolished in the early 19th century, this triumvirate of pain was used almost exclusively on those convicted of high treason. Of course, back then the legal system had a pretty loose definition of “high treason”. The torture was more or less how it sounds – the victim was hanged until close to death, then gutted and his entrails burned in front of him, then chopped up into four parts. Which sounds horrific, to be honest.

15. Crucifixion

JC may have made it cool but before he introduced booze and silly hats to the party, hanging off a cross for days and then dying was no-one’s idea of a good time. Surprising, then, that the barbaric method of torture is still practiced in countries to this day. Come back, JC – your work’s not done!

16. The Tongue Tearer

Originally known as The Cat (hence the “cat got your tongue” expression), the name clearly was deemed too cute for this brutal implement, so they gave it something a little more literal. Along with “The Mouth Opener” (another witty name), this would do just as the name suggested. At least the name change made searching for adorable gifs a less harrowing experience.

17. The Thumbscrew

Also known – rather cutely – as the “pilliwinks”, these could crack almost any bone in the body – not just the thumbs. More of a classic confession-extracting device, the screws would be used to make it very slow and very painful. Honestly, a couple of minutes with that and we’d say anything they want.

18. The Guillotine

Theoretically – although not always – instant, and usually painless, the guillotine was one of the more humane methods of execution, if you could call any capital punishment humane. The torture would have been in the lead up, the anticipation, the heads rolling before you, and knowing what’s next. Gives us the shivers.

19. The Heretic Fork

Some of the most awful torture devices are those where you’re essentially torturing yourself. Like this one, where a double-ended fork was attached to the neck – one end pushing against the upper chest, the other against the chin. Any head or body movement would then slowly pierce the victim’s skin. As a little-noted side effect, it certainly cured snoring.

20. The Lead Sprinkler

The equation hot things + body parts = confession has been tried and tested. This implement, however, tried to streamline the process by having the hot things (like oil, tar, or molten lead) in a handy shaker sprinkler. Simply give it a couple of flicks of the wrist over sensitive body parts like eyes and genitals, and voila! Horrible pain.

21. The Hanging Coffin

It was known as coffin torture in the Middle Ages, but pain and extracting confessions was probably not the point of these cages. While small and very uncomfortable, you really just hung there until the birds pecked your brains out, which could have been days. Instead, it was meant as more of public display and deterrent – kinda like American Idol.

22. Neck Spikes

More of a pain and discomfort device than just plain death, these neck spikes, once attached, would prevent the victim from performing the most basic functions. Try to sleep? SPIKED. Lie down? SPIKED. Eat? SPIKED. Swallo- SPIKED. Check your emai- SPIKED. Wa- SPIKED.

23. Cement Shoes

Ah, the old cement shoes. Sleeping with the fishes. To us it’s always sounded like something the Mafia’s made up as a sick bedtime story, but after in-depth research we’ve found that the rumors are actually true. The whole thing is horrible, from watching your feet set in cement to slowly drowning. It’s really making us rethink the Mafia – we thought they just did pizza and dominoes.

24. A Piece Of Rope

Turns out those horrible medieval men were regular MacGyvers – they could turn anything into a mean torture machine. Take a simple rope, for example. With a short length or two you could tie someone to a tree for the animals, pull them from a horse, hang them, flay them alive, or – worst of them all - turn it into a quoits set.

25. The Republican Marriage

Long before Trump turned the idea of a Republican marriage into a joke, the French revolutionaries came up with this to execute nuns and priests during the upheavals. Of course, it wasn’t exactly the cleverest of punishments – the victims were simply tied together naked and thrown into freezing water- but the name, to give them credit, is kind of sinister.


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