Most Interesting Methods of Execution In History


Dear readers, this list is completely from memory. This fact should scare you.

Without further ado…


Though guillotines are very well-known, and were even at one point touted as a humane method of execution, they make this list for a number of reasons.

Number one – they have a history. True, they were popularized by the Committee of Public Safety in the 1790s during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, but they had existed for years beforehand in places such as England, Scotland and Germany. In one case, an impoverished but brilliant carpenter living in Whitechapel, London, built himself a guillotine and used it to hack his own head off. (He was later buried by the side of the road in a shallow, unmarked grave, since suicide was considered an unforgivable sin).

Number two – their humaneness is questionable. One would think that someone would die after having their head chopped off – but actually, it takes a few seconds for the brain to completely shut down. During that span of time, the victim may feel a wave of excruciating pain. Experiments have been carried out to determine exactly how long this period is – one condemned scientist requested one of his friends to call out his name right after his head had been severed, and promised to give some indication if he (the head, that is, not the other guy) heard it. In another case, a murderer was beheaded and, when a scientist called out the murderer’s name, the head was observed to blink. Guesses range from anywhere from two to even ten seconds.



This was especially used during the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries, when the oh-so-gentle government of Britain was trying to “convince” English Roman Catholics to turn Protestant. Those who refused were subject to a variety of persecutions, and some were executed. Among those who were killed was an elderly lady, who was made to lie down with a door on top of her. Boulders were then piled on top of the door till she was crushed to death.


3) SCAPHISM-ed (okay, “scaphism-ed” isn’t strictly a word… but we’ll just have to make do.)

This is an especially gruesome one, put to use in ancient Persia. The victim, when sentenced to scaphism, was forced to ingest milk and honey till they developed severe diarrhea. Faeces, milk and honey were then smeared all over the victim’s body, and the victim was suspended over a body of water. Insects were attracted to the dirt covering the victim, and ended up either eating the victim alive or giving him a lethal infection. I think one word about sums this up: “EWWWW!!!!”



When one thinks of execution methods, hanging is probably the first one that comes to mind. Almost every society has used hanging as a penalty, some more than others – *cough* we’re looking at you here, Britain – but all the same, it deserves a mention here. The duration of a hanging victim’s suffering depended on many factors. Firstly, there was the quality of the rope. If the rope was strong, the victim’s likelihood of hanging to death would be greatly increased. Weak rope tended to break, leaving the victim with an intact neck and a rather painful drop to the wooden scaffold. Secondly, there was the victim’s size – heavier people were likely to drop quicker than lighter ones, and thus be put out of their misery almost immediately with a quick snap of the neck. Light people had to suffer through the agony of being slowly strangled to death.



You’ve probably heard of Bloody Mary Tudor, also known as “that psychotic queen before Elizabeth”. However, there is more to her than that. She was not only the psychotic queen before Elizabeth, she was the psychotic Protestant-burning queen before Elizabeth. England, at the time of Mary’s ascension to the throne, was in the middle of a period of religious turmoil sparked by Henry VIII’s decision to divorce both his wife, Catherine of Aragon, and the Roman Catholic church. His son Edward and daughter Elizabeth were both Protestant, while Mary – his daughter by Catherine of Aragon – was a fanatical Roman Catholic. In an effort to revert England back to the “old religion”, she took to burning Protestant dissenters who refused to convert to Catholicism. Now, as you may imagine, burning alive was a fairly unpleasant, not to mention odoriferous, way to go. The condemned would pray for the smoke to quickly suffocate them, in order to avoid the agony of having to feel their flesh blacken and burn to a crisp. Some prisoners’ families bribed the guards to let them tie bags of gunpowder around the prisoners’ necks, so as to ease their sufferings and grant them a quick (albeit messy) death. This is what happened to two Protestant priests who were condemned by Mary – one of them was killed almost instantly by the fumes, while the other was partially burned before his bag of gunpowder went off and he died.

And that, dear readers, concludes How To Hack People Apart… With Style. You probably shouldn’t read this just before you sleep. Or eat. Especially if your food contains milk or honey.

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About Aditi Ramaswamy

I am Aditi Ramaswamy... the History Hacker. I like history, and hacking. Occasionally, I attempt to hack history itself. Sometimes it even works. Oh, and in my free time I also double as the state of Virginia (we really need a state fruit).

5 thoughts on “Most Interesting Methods of Execution In History

  1. Nice work on execution methods, of course more options available these days – making us watch a “Kardashian” marathon (tied to a chair). In case you did not recognize me, I met with you and your folks when Amber came to visit from Seattle.

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