7 Cruelest Punishments of the Ancient World

History is a great and terrible thing. Throughout the times, there were many ugly things that occurred, and many devices used to make those things occur. We’ve compiled a list of some of the cruelest punishments of the ancient world and the Middle Ages.

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Brazen Bull

Brazen Bull

Brazen Bull. Source: Wikimedia

One of the cruelest punishments invented in Ancient Greece, this particular type of torture was just as unpleasant as everything else on this list (you’ll see why in a minute). The Brazen Bull was just that – a sculpture of a bull with a fire built underneath it. The victim was placed inside it and slowly roasted to death as the fire burned and the metal grew hotter and hotter. I’m sure you can imagine the pain the victims were in – well, so could the creators of the brazen bull. In fact, they chose the bull because the victims’ screams sounded just like the bellowing of a bull!

Catherine Wheel

Breaking Wheel Torture Scene

Breaking Wheel Torture Scene. Source: Wikimedia

This device was a form of a capital punishment of criminals until the 19th century. Also originated in Ancient Greece, it was adopted by many European countries in the Middle Ages. Usually, by the end of the torture by way of the Catherine Wheel, also known as the breaking wheel, the victim would have every bone in their body broken after suffering for a few days.

Chair of Torture

Torture Chair

Torture Chair. Source: Wikimedia

“Game of Thrones” fans would probably recognize this one – although The Iron Throne is a bit different, it was inspired by the Chair of Torture (also known as the Judas Chair). Layered with about a thousand sharp spikes the chair in question had tight straps attached in order to restrain the poor victim. As if that wasn’t gruesome enough, the chair was also used to scare people into confessing to their crimes while they watched other people be tortured on the chair. The practice was also in place until the 19th century.


Crucifixion of Jesus.

The crucifixion of Jesus. Source: Wikimedia

This was a common practice from around 6th century BC until 4th century AD by the Romans and the Persians, as well as other ancient nations. In fact, it’s still practiced in some countries today. Those of you familiar with the Bible can imagine how gruesome crucifixion could be – victims usually died from bleeding to death after a few days of starvation and dehydration.


Flayed Man - courtesy of Game of Thrones' House Bolton

Flayed Man – courtesy of Game of Thrones’ House Bolton. Source: Wikimedia

This article is turning out to be very “Game of Thrones” – those of you who love the show would recognize this practice as the signature move of one of the Houses. The practice of flaying isn’t just fictional, however. The brutal punishment was widely used in the Middle Ages in Africa and the Middle East. Sometimes, elements like salt were involved to increase the victim’s suffering while they bleed to death.


Vlad the Impaler

Vlad the Impaler. Source: Wikimedia

Most of you know that Dracula wasn’t just a figment of Bram Stoker’s imagination – the Romanian vampire was based on Vlad the Impaler of Transylvania. He forced his victims to sit on a sharp pole raised upright. It could take up to three days to die by impalement, an extremely painful and cruel punishment. The practice wasn’t just employed by Vlad – it was quite popular in Greece, Turkey, and China during the Middle Ages.

Iron Maiden

Various Torture Instruments. Iron Maiden on the far right.

Various Torture Instruments. Iron Maiden on the far right. Source: Wikimedia

While some of you might say that listening to the band of the same name is one of the cruelest punishments, I would respectfully disagree and point you towards the direction of a practice employed in the Middle Ages. The device used consisted of an iron cabinet with a spike-covered interior (not unlike the chair of torture). Once the victim was locked inside, it couldn’t move due to the spikes all over them. The interrogator would poke them from the outside and yell their questions.

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