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Top 5: death penalties

The pain inflicted on each other by human beings in the name of ‘justice’ is hard to fathom

Southeast Asia Globe
November 6, 2012
Top 5: death penalties

The pain inflicted on each other by human beings in the name of ‘justice’ is hard to fathom

Photo: Pressensbild/AFP  The British reportedly used cannons to execute Indian rebels in the 19th Century
Photo: Pressensbild/AFP
The British reportedly used cannons to execute Indian rebels in the 19th Century 

The Brazen Bull
Invented by a brass worker named Perilaus in the 6th century BC, the brazen bull became a common method of execution in ancient Greece. It involved a large brass bull that was completely hollow and fitted with a door, through which offenders would be forced and locked inside. A fire was then lit beneath the bull until the accused was roasted to death, with their screams amplified by a series of tubes placed in the head of the contraption – the noise supposedly sounding like the roaring of a bull. Ironically, the first person to suffer such a fate was Perilaus himself, who was tossed into the bull by a master left repulsed by this torturous method of punishment.
Ling Chi
Only outlawed just over 100 years ago, the art of Ling Chi – death by slow cutting – was practiced in China and used as a method of torture and execution for the living, as well as a ritual of humiliation after death. Exaggerated versions of the penalty have appeared in Western lore, which reference thousands of cuts administered to the accused over the course of hours, but the procedure likely lasted around 20 minutes. The reality was hardly less gruesome, however, with the condemned fastened to a cross before having handfuls of fleshy skin, such as the thighs or breasts, cut off with a sharp knife. A process of dismemberment followed, from nose and ears to arms and legs, before a final blow was delivered via a stab to the heart or decapitation.
A common practice in South Africa in the 1980s, during the anti-apartheid movement, necklacing was a punishment often meted out in black townships to punish members of the community deemed to be cooperating with the apartheid administration. The barbaric practice involved a rubber tyre being doused in petrol and then forced over the arms and chest of the victim, trapping them inside, before being set on fire. Worryingly, this violent method of vigilante justice has reared its head again in South Africa and at least three instances of necklacing have been reported this year, the most recent being an alleged thief who had been released on bail, found dead in May.
This method of execution was used in the Middle East, Europe and parts of Asia and was supposedly the favourite punishment of the tyrannical Roman emperor Caligula. Following the decree of death by sawing, the condemned would be hung upside down with legs spread apart and a large saw was used to cut all the way from the groin to the head. Due to the victim’s position, the brain would receive sufficient blood to keep them alive until the saw got as far as the main blood vessels located in the abdomen.
Saving the worst for last, Scaphism was an ancient Persian method of execution whereby the victim would first be force-fed huge quantities of honey and milk. Further honey would then be smeared on sensitive areas of the body before the accused was encased between two boats or a hollowed out log, their head and feet exposed at either end. The contraption was then left in the sun or floated on a stagnant pond, where flies, wasps and other insects would be attracted to the body, while the victim experienced severe diarrhoea due to the ingested milk and honey. The insects would soon feed and breed in the faeces and flesh of the condemned, severing blood vessels and turning flesh gangrenous, leaving them to slowly rot before death came about by a combination of dehydration and septicaemia.

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